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Another Thetford Post Office Faces Cuts

Thetford — The Thetford Center post office nestled in the back of the Thetford Village Store is the latest Upper Valley post office with its operations under the microscope, as federal officials wrangle with budget deficits in the nation’s mail delivery system.

And while residents are cognizant that their town of roughly 2,500 residents boasts five post offices within its borders, many still lament the possibility of further limiting access to a place that offers both a useful service and acts a community gathering point.

“It’s nothing on the scale of what they need to address,” Village Store owner Mary Pomeroy said, standing in her Route 113 parking lot on Friday. “This is saving them what percentage of the budget? That’s the sad thing — it’s painful for the community” and doesn’t create significant savings.

Others, though, said it could make sense to consolidate the post office locations in a town that has already cut down from seven locations total. The Thetford Hill Post Office sits about a mile from the Village Store; there are also post offices in North Thetford, East Thetford and in Post Mills, in the same building as Baker’s General Store, also owned by the Pomeroy family.

Thetford’s population was 2,588 in the 2010 Census.

“I think it’s the most ridiculous thing in the world to have a town of 2,500 people and have five post offices,” said Elmer Brown, who owns E. C. Brown’s Nursery a short ways down the road from the Thetford Center post office, after he picked up his mail there on Friday.

Even though the Thetford Center location is convenient for him, said he had no preferences on how officials could consolidate locations.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I have a car.”

Postal officials and the public will discuss the future of the Thetford Center post office during a meeting there at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday . According to a public notice, officials will present the results of a resident survey that included four options:

∎ Reducing its weekday hours from 7.15 per day to 6 hours per day “based on actual office workload” and maintaining Saturday hours and access to post office boxes.

∎ Conducting a discontinuance study for the office, offering roadside mailbox delivery and offering retail and delivery services through a rural carrier.

∎ Conducting a discontinuance study for the office and finding a “suitable alternative location operated by a contractor.

∎ Conducting a discontinuance study for the office and providing P.O. Box service via another nearby post office.

The agency accepts survey results “up to the last minute” and results were not available Friday.

When asked whether USPS might consider reducing the number of Thetford’s overall post offices, Maureen Marion, manager of corporate relations for the USPS in the northeast, said in an email on Friday that the agency is “not considering reducing the numbers of post offices.”

“Our commitment to rural America has been to keep their local post offices open, using operating strategies that assure access to regular and routine mail service with retail support appropriate to the historic use demonstrated by the office,” she said.

The Thetford Center location was among the 15 Upper Valley post offices, mostly in Vermont, where the Postal Service last fall proposed scaling back weekday counter service hours under a program called Post Plan.

Most recently, officials were scheduled to hold a meeting in North Hartland on Friday to discuss possibly reducing its weekday hours to four, down from nearly eight.

In the email on Friday, Marion said the agency will be in Thetford Center seeking “community input to guide us on the hours of operation that suit the community within the parameters of hours that support the workload of the office — in the case of a six hour office, for instance, is better in the morning? The afternoon? Split? The community’s ebb and flow is so helpful in guiding us.”

“But to be very clear, a community meeting is not designed to rework this decision or the Post Plan program,” she said. “We will make this change of operating hours unless there is a super-majority of more than 60 percent who return surveys with an expressed preference for discontinuing the office in lieu of service provided elsewhere.”

Cutting back on hours to save on employees’ salaries, Pomeroy said, amounts to a drop in the bucket of the woes of the U.S. Postal Service, without addressing how to modernize its services in an age of email, automatic bill pay and private carriers. The agency lost a record-setting $15.9 billion for the fiscal year that ended in September 2013.

For years, the Postal Service has been looking into reducing thousands of post offices’ hours nationwide because business is dropping, but Pomeroy said she feared reducing hours will actually hurt business more.

“It’s going to force you to go to FedEx or the brown trucks,” she said, referring to the United Parcel Service, known as UPS.

“Even consolidating” Thetford’s post offices, she said, “again, it doesn’t solve what the real issue” of keeping the post office relevant in a digital age.

Thetford Center resident Dean Whitlock, who recently posted on the Thetford email listserve about the challenges facing the post office, said in an interview that he had not yet decided on what he thinks should happen to Thetford’s post offices, but said there’s plenty to consider in the conversation.

“It’s a complicated issue,” he said. “Either way we go we’ll have some effects.”

His strongest sentiment right now is that, if the post office hours are reduced, the hours should be scheduled in a way that allows the staff to take on a second part-time job, such as keeping the office open for one chunk of time in the morning instead of splitting it with a large break mid-day.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.