The Ottumwa Courier

October 29, 2012

Meetings spotlight changes in rural post office hours

LAURA CARRELL
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Many rural communities are one step closer to knowing the updated schedules for their local post office.

Informational meetings are being held in each of the post offices chosen to have their hours reduced in the U.S. Postal Service’s effort to restructure and become more financially stable.

Richard Watkins, corporate communications spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Kansas City, says the informational meetings have not been a time to plead anyone’s case. They are an opportunity to share the facts about what is taking place and learn what the community wants the hours of their facility to be.

“Some people still wonder if their post office is closing. No, we’re just talking about what hours you want,” Watkins explained. “And we’re not relitigating the decision to decrease hours - that is going forward. We just have to put all the information together for them.”

In each of the affected communities, each address received a survey from the Postal Service. On it were four choices about what they wanted most for their post office and what hours of operation would benefit them best.

This information was tabulated and posted to the Post Office website. At the meetings being held during the months of October and November, these results are being presented to the community.

“We don’t assume to know what the community wants. We’d rather let them decide what works best for them,” he said.

In July 2011, the postal service announced that more than 3,500 post offices were being considered for closure. In the aftermath, thousands of community meetings were held and surveys were conducted. Survey research conducted by Opinion Research Corporation in February 2012 showed 54 percent of rural customers didn’t want their post offices closed.

In May 2012, in response to this outcry from residents in towns whose post offices were facing closure, the postal service offered an option. The rural post office would be kept open while reducing their hours of availability. Watkins says that 85-95 percent of those surveyed replied that they’d rather have shortened hours than have their post office close completely.

Watkins says that the post offices selected for shortened hours were based on workload, revenue and retail transactions. From 2006-11, there were 200 million fewer visits to local post office facilities than in previous years. This means making an adjustment to the number of post offices available and the hours they are open.

Last year, 35 percent of the Post Office’s total revenue came from a location other than traditional brick-and-mortar post office. This includes purchasing stamps and mailing supplies at convenience stores, grocery stores and online at the Post Office website.

Watkins says that number is up to nearly 40 percent in 2012 already.

“It doesn’t mean they’re not purchasing, it just means they’re going somewhere else to make their purchases. We have to pay attention to that,” Watkins said.

For a schedule of upcoming meetings, to view the results of the area surveys, to see a list of communities affected or get more information about the Post Office’s overall plan, visit http://about.usps.com/news/electronic-press-kits/our-future-network/welcome.htm.