With the fate of community post offices uncertain, residents of Atlantic on Thursday evening received results of their own local survey — whether their office would be closed, face shorter hours or remain unchanged. They heard the “results” with mixed reactions.
The majority of those surveyed in recent weeks had submitted votes to reduce the hours of operation for their post office. That may or may not be the final decision, and any final move would be a year or more from now.
Larry McClain, a district operations manager for the United States Postal Service, and 13 members of the public met in Atlantic Community Church on Atlantic-Conneaut Lake Road, across from the Atlantic Post Office. The town is in a thinly populated rural area of southwestern Crawford County.
The group discussed the survey, and residents were able to air their questions and concerns.
The meeting was part of the POST Plan, a nationwide USPS initiative meant to evaluate approximately 13,000 community post offices based on public surveys to determine whether facilities should be closed, supplemented with village post offices, in which local retailers and other businesses are contracted to offer sales of postal items, or have operation hours realigned.
“We’re working with communities on proposals to reduce hours at post offices manned only by post masters,” said Tad Kelley, another USPS spokesperson, when contacted by the Tribune earlier in the day. “We’ve been met with resistance in the last year when we proposed closing several community post offices. We’re readjusting hours and not closing facilities based on customer feedback.”
In the case of closure, community services would be handled by a nearby post office. In Atlantic’s case, had the majority of those surveyed chosen closure, services could then be rerouted to Adamsville, Hartstown or Conneaut Lake, according to USPS research.
“There were 446 customer surveys mailed out,” said McClain. “We got 158 back. The majority of the public here want the post office kept open, with hours changed.”
Retail operations are projected to be cut to four hours, leaving questions among meeting attendees as to what time of day would be ideal for such a change.
An initial USPS proposal, offering operational hours from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and 8 to 10:15 a.m. Saturday, was met with some discourse from members of the public concerned about missing mail as a result of employment hours in and out of town.
“I work in Meadville with sensitive documents,” said Arvilla Baird Allen, East Fallowfield Township tax collector. “How does someone who works out of the area get their mail?”
McClain mentioned USPS proposals of time locks on certain facilities, depending on the security of building structures, allowing customers use of the lobby and access to their post office boxes.
“If certain areas are exposed or can be accessed through the lobby, the post office can’t be left unattended,” said McClain, who assured attendees all questions, concerns and suggestions would be recorded and presented to USPS officers for review and consideration. “A notice entailing what we think is best for Atlantic, based on your feedback, will be posted at the facilities within seven days and no official action will be taken for 60 days.”
Other concerns raised involved post office box rates, which are not projected to change if hours are altered.
“The actual revenues of a community post office determines the hours,” said McClain. “Some will be shortened to two, four or six hours of operation. We’re looking to save half of a billion dollars by January 2014 when we hope the POST Plan is fully implemented.”
Kelley emphasized the current state of USPS as one of “dire financial straits,” leading to proposed spending cuts to deal with steadily decreasing revenues. Cuts included the reduction and closure of processing plants around the country.
“We’re a delivery company,” said McClain. “We’re hurt by rising gas costs. The decline is first class mail is killing us.”
Research provided by McClain showed a 27 percent drop in customer retail visits nationwide from 2005 to 2011 with a 16 percent drop in retail transactions at the district level.
Percentages of survey feedback are relatively similar between communities, McClain added.
“That’s how many people are concerned; that’s how the times are,” he said.
USPS closed mail processing facilities including those in Wheeling, W.Va., and Greensburg in order to cut spending, consolidating services in Pittsburgh.
Allen commented on the adverse affect the shift had on delivery time, moving what she said used to be next-day delivery over a few miles to two or three days with mail sent to Pittsburgh for processing, then resent to Crawford County.
“We don’t want to see the post office close,” she said. “But I don’t see how moving hours is accommodating to the community. It’s better to close it and save the postal service some cost.”
“That was the original plan, but not enough people said no,” McClain said. “Contrary to what was said here, service is high in northwestern Pennsylvania. We’re working through hurdles to make some big changes because we’re still in trouble.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.