Valley National Bank of Wayne, N.J., is fast carving a niche as the official credit card issuer of local governments around the Garden State.

The $4.5 billion-asset bank is aggressively pursuing partnerships with several municipalities in New Jersey.

So far four deals have been signed, and others are on the way. Two ventures, the South Orange credit card and the Edison Education Foundation of Edison Township, have been launched.

Within the last four weeks, Valley National signed two agreements, one with Sussex County and one with Morris Township and Morristown.

The latter partnership will encompass both towns, issuing credit cards to about 35,000 households.

John S. Harris, the bank's vice president of marketing, said he wants Valley National's card strategy to reflect the larger world of card marketing. "Most of the growth in the industry is coming from cobranded or affinity cards," he said.

To satisfy all of its partners, Valley National established one price and rebate for its four programs.

"The rationale is to keep it simple and consistent" so that no one thinks that the bank is giving one town a better deal than another, said Ralph Cuono, manager of the bank's card operations.

The credit cards carry an interest rate based on the prime rate plus 5.7%. There is no annual fee. Also, 1% of the amount of each purchase made with the card goes into the town or county fund.

Sussex County hopes to benefit from cardholder purchases by generating funds for its firefighters' academy, farmland preservation, and economic development. Morristown and Morris Township want to use the card to help lower taxes.

The Township of South Orange wants to do the same, as well as raising money to revitalize its downtown. So far, there are 800 South Orange cardholders.

The Edison Education Foundation, which raises funds for programs that are not part of the school district budget, hopes its bank card program will generate $20,000. Mr. Cuono said, however, that the program is growing slowly.

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