Orleans County post offices stand to have hours cut

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle  July 11, 2012

More than a dozen post offices in Orleans County could have their hours cut under a new U.S. Postal Service (USPS) plan to save money.

The Postal Service, which is not taxpayer supported but must make ends meet through the sale of its goods and services, is projecting a loss this year of $14-billion, said spokesman Tom Rizzo.

An earlier plan to bridge deficits like that called for closing over 3,600 postal facilities across the country.  “But when we had community meetings we heard loud and clear that was not going to be a popular move,” Mr. Rizzo said.

The new strategy would leave rural post offices open and retain zip codes, but would slash their hours, many times in half.  It would be implemented over two years, and by the time it was finalized, in September of 2014, it is expected to save a half billion dollars a year, the USPS website says.

In Orleans County, the following post offices would be open four hours a day instead of eight:  Albany, Beebe Plain, Coventry, Craftsbury Common, East Charleston, West Charleston, Greensboro Bend, and Lowell.  The following would be open six hours instead of eight:  Craftsbury, Greensboro, Irasburg, Morgan, Newport Center, and Troy.

The list is preliminary and will likely be reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission.  Starting in the fall, community meetings will be held in order to get customer comment, Mr. Rizzo said.

“These are, generally speaking, very small rural post offices,” he said.  “They simply do not have the foot traffic to support them being open as long as they are.”

There are 32,000 post offices in the U.S., Mr. Rizzo said.  Of those, 26,000 don’t meet their expenses, he said.

“When that comes against the fact that the Postal Service is not taxpayer supported, it’s a prescription for disaster, and we’re seeing it this year.  Clearly this is not something we can sustain.”

People are using post offices less and less as they turn to technological methods of paying their bills or communicating, Mr. Rizzo said.

“The public is not using post offices like they used to.  The main thing we’re losing is first-class letters.  That has taken a tremendous hit from technology.  We’re struggling to adapt to a new world.  It’s just a fact of life.”

Unfortunately, the Postal Service is banned by current law from taking some steps it would like to take to save itself from financial ruin, Mr. Rizzo said.

“We would like to be able to go to five-day delivery instead of six-day, but the law says we have to stay open and maintain delivery six days a week.”

A five-day delivery system would also be a more realistic reflection of the use of the mail, he said.

Also, the USPS, unlike any other governmental agency, must set aside $5.5-billion a year for future retirees’ health benefits.  That’s a mandate the USPS would love to be rid of, Mr. Rizzo said.

Until those requirements change, however, the Postal Service must do what it can to cut costs in the face of declining use and burgeoning budget deficits, he said.

Affected communities might opt to have what’s called a “village post office,” basically a retailer who sells stamps, prepaid mailing envelopes, and other goods one might buy at a post office.

“They could do that and not have a post office at all,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Communities will also have a say in what hours they prefer to see their post office remain open, he said.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com

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