By Kathy McCarty
More than two dozen post offices from across Aroostook County are facing the likelihood retail hours will be reduced, in an effort to cut costs and keep the U.S. Postal Service a viable entity. A tough economy and the electronic transmission of data has had a significant impact on the agency’s pocketbook, resulting in the need to cut expenses while trying to maintain the best, most efficient service possible. The restructuring would go into effect by September 2014.
“There will be reductions (in retail hours) at a number of locations throughout the state. It’s a process that started several months ago,” said Tom Rizzo, USPS spokesperson for Maine.
Rizzo said the impact will be felt not only in Maine but across the U.S., with officials looking to reduce the retail hours at smaller, less-frequented locations.
“The USPS will be reducing hours of operation at about 13,000 locations around the country. Over 200 of those are located in Maine — the small, rural post offices,” said Rizzo.
This is a decision that’s been some time in the making.
“Several months ago USPS officials opted to realign hours,” said Rizzo.
Rizzo said public meetings were scheduled at post offices in the affected communities beginning last fall, with meetings continuing into the first couple weeks of 2013.
“The purpose of the community meetings was to get feedback,” said Rizzo.
Under the program — Post Office Structure Plan or POST plan — which was unveiled in May 2012, it provides a framework for cutting costs so the USPS can regain its financial stability. As of last year it was reported the service was losing more than $23 million a day.
Last year several smaller post offices across the U.S. were considered for closure, in an effort to save money. But that met with public opposition and the post offices remained open. The POST plan is an alternative that will allow existing post offices to remain open but with reduced window hours to reflect customer use. The plan will provide access to the retail lobby and post office boxes now in existence. Towns would also retain their ZIP codes and community identities.
Surveys were sent to residents of the communities making the list, asking them to choose from among four alternatives:
• Keep the post office open but with reduced weekday hours. Saturday hours and access of post office boxes would stay the same;
• Conduct a discontinuance study for the office and provide a roadside mailbox delivery. Retail and deliver service would be provided through a rural carrier;
• Conduct a discontinuance study and find an alternative site to be operated by a contractor, typically a local business, where customers could buy stamps and flat-rate products. The letter indicated this option would likely provide more business hours than the post office could; and
• Conduct a discontinuance study and relocate post office box service to another nearby post office.
The plan will be implemented over the next two years. Once it is fully in place, the USPS projects it will save a half billion dollars annually.
While some post offices will see retail hours reduced from eight to six daily, others will see even greater reductions, based on the level of service needed for each. Rizzo said work hours are being aligned to reflect “reduced customer use.”
These changes, in addition to the retirement of several veteran postmasters, will result in considerable savings for the USPS.
The following is a list of Aroostook County post offices facing reduced retail hours, what their current hours are and what they will be once the change is made:
• Blaine, Eagle Lake, Frenchville, Limestone, Mapleton, Oakfield, Saint Agatha, Sherman and Washburn — eight hours to six a day; and
• Benedicta, Bridgewater, Easton, Fort Kent Mills, Grand Isle, Monticello, New Sweden, Perham, Portage, Saint David, Saint Francis, Stacyville, Sinclair, Smyrna Mills, Wallagrass, Stockholm and Westfield — eight hours to four a day.
Seeing the greatest change will be Crouseville, which is scheduled to go from six hours to two.