Post Offices Likely to Cut Hours
More Upper Valley Towns to See Reduction in Counter Service
In Post Mills, Vt., on Jan. 3, 2014, at the Post Mills Post Office in Baker's General Store, Officer-in-Charge Jan Jurgelewicz helps customer Roberta Knight, of Fairlee, Vt. Knight works in Post Mills. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Click the image for a larger version. Purchase photo reprints »
Melinda Sargent, of Post Mills, Vt., checks for mail on Jan. 3, 2014, at the Post Mills Post Office in Baker's General Store. (Valley News- Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Thetford — In a continuing effort to cut costs, the U.S. Postal Service has proposed scaling back weekday counter service hours at 15 Upper Valley post offices, mostly in Vermont.
That’s on top of 17 other post office locations in the region that saw their retail hours reduced in recent months. (See chart above; click the image for a larger version.)
Access to post office boxes and Saturday retail hours would not be affected under the proposal.
All five of Thetford’s post offices already have cut back on hours or will in the future, according to the Postal Service. The most drastic change under consideration in the Upper Valley is to cut the North Thetford post office’s retail hours from six hours per weekday to just two.
“(When) they’ve cut back on the one I go to personally, it’s a pain in the butt, because you can never get to the one that’s open,” said Thetford Selectman Mike Pomeroy, who owns Baker’s General Store.
Pomeroy leases space in the building to the Post Mills post office, which is under consideration to have its weekday window service cut almost in half, down to four hours a day.
Other post offices which could have their weekday retail hours nearly halved to four hours a day are North Hartland, South Pomfret, South Woodstock, Vershire and West Newbury.
Although the schedule changes are considered proposals, a Postal Service spokeswoman suggested they are likely to be instituted.
“We’re two-thirds of the way through the (review) process and I am not aware of any participating offices in the Northeast that have not adjusted their retail services hours as prescribed,” spokeswoman Melissa Lohnes said in an email.
If the hours are reduced, the time of day that the post office remains open will be determined on a case-by-case basis, she said.
Postal Service officials have said they’re responding to the reality that mail volume has decreased rapidly in the Internet age. The Postal Service has faced budget shortfalls in billions of dollars, and is under pressure to reduce its spending.
Lohnes said Post Plan, the review process under which the Postal Service decided to roll back window service at the 32 Upper Valley post offices, has already saved the agency significantly.
“We already see an impact from Post Plan and other postal actions designed to reduce our operating costs,” Lohnes said in an email. “Work hours in 2013 decreased by 12 million or 1.1 percent, despite an increase of approximately 774,000 delivery (destinations) during 2013.”
More than 13,000 post offices nationwide were identified for review when Post Plan was initiated last year as part of a greater plan to achieve “a smart balance between regular delivery access, local retail opportunity and expanded access in alternate venues, including online and with retail partners, for the most common postal services like stamps, postal information or shipping,” Lohnes said in the email.
“As communications and technology of all types are in a period of great change, so too is the Postal Service,” she said. “As a result, we are looking at effective strategies that help us to match our resources to our true workload while preserving the levels of service that our customers need today in the digital age. ... Given our dire financial condition, we need this boost now.”
The Post Plan cycle will wrap up this year, she said.
Postal Service officials will host meetings at post offices targeted for review to answer questions and provide additional information about Post Plan. A meeting for the Tunbridge Post Office is scheduled for Jan. 28 at the post office at 4:30 p.m.
Notices are being delivered to residents in the affected post offices’ zip codes. Lohnes said other meeting dates will be posted as they are scheduled at http://about.usps.com/news/electronic-press-kits/our-future-network/post-plan/.
Still, Pomeroy said people around town are displeased by the post offices’ reduction in hours. He personally felt that the Postal Service should redirect its aim at Saturday mail delivery.
“It’s going after the efficiencies in the wrong place,” he said. “We’re a transient society now, it used to be that people stayed at home ... so rural mail needed to be delivered to them. Now they’re always mobile. You’re in your car all day, why can’t you stop somewhere to get mail?”
Taftsville Country Store owner Vickie Brooks also rents space in her building to the post office, which was previously open eight hours on weekdays. But over the fall, its hours were reduced from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“People are not happy about it because it limits by half a day the amount of time they can use the facilities of the post office, the window,” she said.
There are still kinks to be worked out “that one might not think of,” Brooks added.
“They don’t open until 12:30, so there’s nobody in the post office to clear the walkway, sprinkle salt,” she said.
While she and other customers are not happy with the reduced hours, she said she fears there could be more cuts to come.
“They’ve been really very clear, that they’re going to close the small post office locations,” she said. “They have not said when ... it could be a year, it could be three or four years.”
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3220.