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STATUS OF DIME BANK'S ALBION OPERATION UNCERTAIN

Dime Bancorp, the largest private employer in Orleans County, has been bought by another company, throwing into question the status of the 500 jobs at the company's loan servicing center.

Washington Mutual, the largest U.S. savings and loan company, announced Monday that it was paying $5.2 billion for New York City-based Dime. All of Dime's loan servicing, as well as some lending and bank operations, are done in the bank's Albion office.

Once Dime is fully integrated, the companies said, the merger could create about $150 million in cost savings and result in an unspecified number of job cuts to eliminate overlap.

"It's just way too early (to know about any consolidations). We announced it (Monday)," said Kevin Horn, spokesman for Washington Mutual. "We typically spend a lot of time looking at the operation."

This is not the first time the Dime office in Albion has faced an uncertain future.

Last year, Dime fought off a hostile takeover bid from North Fork Bancorp. There was speculation that because North Fork was not in the mortgage banking business, it might sell the entire operation to Fleet, which would then shift the work in Albion to its offices.

Washington Mutual has slashed jobs when incorporating acquisitions in the past.

Washington Mutual originally had seven loan servicing locations as the result of several acquisitions in rapid succession. It closed centers in Seattle, Wash.; Houston, Texas; and Louisville, Ky. Its remaining centers are Northridge, Calif.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Florence, S.C.; and Vernon Hills, Ill. Those centers are twice to four times as large as Dime's loan servicing center in Albion.

The company is currently looking to fill several hundred vacancies at its other loan servicing centers. If the Albion office did close, those employees would be welcome to transfer to other locations, said Craig S. Davis, president of home loans and insurance services group.

But if those employees have to go elsewhere for jobs, it would be a major loss to the community, said Donald Kennedy, executive director of the County of Orleans Industrial Development Agency.

"It would be a very, very hard loss for a small community," he said.

The community has already seen many good-paying jobs leave the area, most notably when Mattel Corp. acquired Fisher-Price and closed the Medina plant in 1995, eliminating 950 jobs.

If Dime leaves, the largest employer would be Brunner Manufacturing, which makes truck brake shoes.

Washington Mutual and Dime expect to have a better idea of the Albion's site's future when the deal closes in about six months.

Under the deal's terms, Washington Mutual will pay $40.84 for each share of Dime Bancorp, an 11 percent premium over Dime's closing price of $36.88 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Of the purchase price, 70 percent will be in stock and 30 percent will be in cash.

Washington Mutual, whose roots go back to 1889, has $219 billion in assets and operates more than 1,225 retail branches and nearly 400 residential loan offices across the country. It serves 5.4 million households and has about 30,000 employees.

Analysts said Washington Mutual is interested in gaining a foothold in the lucrative New York City retail banking market through its purchase of Dime.

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