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Changes coming for rural postal service locations

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 13, 2012

— Kenny Dillingham has to put down the phone to take care of a customer.

Dillingham, the officer in charge/postmaster of the Darien Post Office, is the only employee in the tiny office.

As he talks to the customer at the window, his voice can be clearly heard over the phone.

“We’re closed over the lunch hour, but if I’m working, you come right up to the cage here and ask for me,” Dillingham tells the customer. “I’ll be back here with my sandwich.”

When he returns to the phone, he’s back to his formal mode, referring a reporter to the regional coordinator for the local Post Plan.

That plan has the potential to change the way rural communities receive and send their mail. In the next few months, the U.S. Postal Service will survey boxholders in small towns and then hold meetings to talk about the results.

The move comes more than a year after the Postal Service suggested closing 3,700 smaller offices to help cover its multibillion-dollar deficit.

Because of significant “pushback” from the public, that plan was abandoned, said Sean Hargadon, spokesman for the USPS.

What happened?

The post office lost $5.1 billion in 2011, mostly due to the decline in first class mail, according to the Associated Press.

The problem is obvious.

In 2006, the post office delivered 213 billion pieces of first class mail. In 2011, it delivered 170 billion pieces.

Electronic and other forms of communication have replaced the letter, and those numbers are expected to continue to decline.

In addition, in 2006, Congress mandated that the Postal Service prepay its pension fund for 75 years—and do it within 10 years. No other government agency has been asked to do that.

The pre-pay requirement means that the Postal Service has to set aside $5.5 billion a year. Earlier this week, the Postal Service asked to raise the price of a first class stamp one cent. Earlier this year, it also asked Congress to consider going to five-day-a-week delivery to help cut its losses.

A new plan

Under the Post Plan, consumers who live in communities affected by the plan will be given four choices.

-- Keep the office open but with reduced hours.

-- Close the post office and offer curbside delivery and services. Hargadon described this as a “post office on wheels.”

-- Close the post office and open a “village post office” in an existing business. A village post office provides postal products and services—much the way general stores used to do.

-- Close the post office and offer postal box service in a nearby city.

Surveys have been sent to boxholders asking for their preferences. Community meetings will be held in each of the affected villages before any decisions are made.


 

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