The National Credit Union Administration has allowed four small credit unions to sharply increase their fields of membership.

The largest expansion was granted to First Service FCU, a $40 million- asset institution in Groveport, Ohio, which last week got permission to serve the one million people living in Franklin County, including Columbus. First Service's current field of membership is limited to the 22,000 people living in five parts of the county.

A broad NCUA rule relaxing limits on credit union membership took effect Jan. 1. Congress has until the end of February to object to two provisions in the rule, including the NCUA's definition of a community. House Banking's financial institutions subcommittee has a Feb. 3 hearing scheduled on the rule.

The banking industry opposes the new rule, and has challenged it in court. "It just strains credibility to think that one million people can have commonality," said Karen Thomas, director of regulatory affairs for the Independent Bankers Association of America.

The rule defines a community as a geographic area with fewer than 300,000 residents. Credit unions proposing to serve such communities will typically get swift approval. However, the NCUA said fields of membership with more than 300,000 residents could be acceptable with proof that they function as communities.

The NCUA also allowed CBC Federal Credit Union in Port Hueneme, Calif., to convert its occupation-based charter to one serving the 717,400 people living in Ventura County, Calif. CBC, with $113 million of assets, had been limited to the 30,000 people working at the Naval Construction Battalion Center.

The agency also allowed the $80 million-asset El Paso Employees FCU to expand its membership from city employees and their dependents to the 591,610 people living in El Paso County, Tex. El Paso Employees currently has 29,000 of a potential 33,000 members.

Finally, Wheatland FCU of Lancaster, Pa., was given permission to convert to a community charter serving the 423,000 people "who live, work, worship, and attend school, and the business and other legal entities located in Lancaster County," NCUA said.

Wheatland's former field of membership had 19,400 potential members; 13,000 had joined the $31 million-asset institution.

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