Battling to stay independent, St. Paul Bancorp said Tuesday it would take a charge of $19 million to $23 million against third-quarter earnings to help reduce annual costs $9 million by 1999.

Joseph C. Scully, chief executive officer of the $5.3 billion-asset thrift, said the cost-cutting campaign was one of a series of initiatives to bolster St. Paul's return on equity to 15%, from 11.49%, within two years. He said the company also was focusing on capital management and asset growth to improve returns.

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