The USPS’ new strategies are being implemented over a two-year period, with completion slated for September 2014. Step one is holding community meetings to offer three new alternatives to closure for rural customers. The options include mail delivery service to residents and businesses in the affected community by either rural carrier or highway contract routes, a reduction in office hours, consolidation by offering service from a nearby post office, or contracting with a local business to create a village post office.
A village post office is one that is combined with an existing service, such as a library or a convenience store.
Communities in the valley that have already held these meetings include Marlboro and Williamsville. Lori Haddad, officer in chief of the Williamsville branch, says the community meeting was positive and provided an easy solution to closure. Williamsville held their meeting on Thursday, January 17, and those who returned surveys sent out by the USPS voted to cut office hours from six to eight. “Our meeting was very good and the results are that we will essentially have a longer lunch,” said Haddad. “We will be open six hours a day instead of eight, and closed 11 am to 1:15 pm, instead of the usual 12 to 1 pm.”
Haddad says this will barely affect service as the lobby automatically unlocks at 6 am and locks at 8 pm, whether there is someone attending to the window or not.
Patty Webster, postmaster of Marlboro, says the meeting at their office was attended by nearly 80 residents whom she described as passionate and creative. “The people were looking for solutions and more communication from those in charge, and they also understand things needed to change.”
Webster says residents voted for cutting office hours rather than closing, but she is in the dark as to how the hours will change. Currently the office window is open from 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 4:30 pm.
Whitingham, Readsboro, Wardsboro, West Wardsboro, West Halifax, and Jacksonville are all being considered for substantial reduction of daily hours of operation from eight to four. Whitingham has their community meeting scheduled for Tuesday at 4 pm at the Whitingham Post Office.
The USPS’ original plan, released in July 2011, called for the closingof 3,653 post offices nationwide, citing financial reasons and a decrease in mail volume. Feedback from community meetings and surveys revealed that those in rural communities did not want to see their post offices closed. According to Tom Rizzo, northern New England spokesperson for the USPS, the service cannot afford to continue operating as it has since 1971 when the modern postal service was created by the Postal Reorganization Act. “The postal service lost $15.9 billion in 2012,” said Rizzo. “We will be reducing hours at 13,000 post offices because we can’t sit on our hands and do nothing.”
Rizzo says the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 has caused a good deal of the financial crisis. The law requires the postal service to pre-fund retiree health benefits. “Most of our losses come as a result of that law and we need congressional legislation to fix that,” said Rizzo.
The realignment of Postal Service operations is part of a larger, comprehensive plan to reduce costs by $20 billion by 2015. “We simply do not have the mail volumes to justify the size and capacity of our current mail processing network,” said USPS CEO Pat Donahoe in a statement last May. “To return to long-term profitability and financial stability while keeping mail affordable, we must match our network to the anticipated workload.”
Postmasters in Jacksonville and West Halifax declined to comment until their communities had a chance to decide their fate.
Rizzo says the decision to not close rural offices and give communities options has found favor across the Northeast. “Most people are relieved we’re not closing their post office and we’re doing everything we can, and this is a positive alternative to closing offices.”