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USPS eyeing reduced hours, other measures as way of keeping rural post offices open

Kate Collins | BDN
Kate Collins | BDN
Karla Tower, postmaster of the Passadumkeag Post Office, behind the counter on Tuesday, July 26, 2011.
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The U.S. Postal Service is surveying customers of Maine’s smallest post offices to determine their preferences for retail and delivery services in the aftermath of major restructuring.

The surveys are part of the U.S. Postal Service’s effort to keep the nation’s smallest post offices open for business, Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service Northern New England District, said Wednesday.

Unveiled in May, the Post Office Structure Plan, or POST plan, provides a framework for cutting costs so the USPS can regain its financial stability, according to a news release the organization issued. The service was losing more than $23 million a day at the time.

The plan allows for keeping existing post offices in place, but with modified window hours to match customer use, while continuing to provide the access to the retail lobby and post office boxes that now exist. In addition, towns would retain their ZIP codes and community identities.

The plan also allows for alternatives, including a shift to mail delivery service by either rural carrier or highway contract route; contracting with local businesses that would serve as village post offices; and offering service from another nearby post office.

A voluntary early retirement incentive for the nation’s more than 21,000 nonexecutive postmasters was also announced in May.

Nationally, 13,000 post offices would be affected by the restructuring plan, Rizzo said. Of those, 244 are in Maine, he said.

Postal customers in Eddington are among the affected postal customers who received surveys this week. A letter accompanying the surveys said the USPS will discuss the proposed changes and answer any questions customers have during a meeting set for 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at the local post office, which is located at 1042 Main Road.

In the surveys they received this week, Eddington residents were asked to choose among four alternatives:

• Keep the post office open but with reduced weekday hours. In Eddington’s case, business hours would drop from seven to four a day, according to a letter sent to a postal customer from that town. Saturday hours and access of post office boxes would stay the same, the letter said.

• Conduct a discontinuance study for the office and provide roadside mailbox delivery. Retail and delivery 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. That option likely would provide more business hours than the post office could, the letter indicates.

• Conduct a discontinuance study and relocate post office box service to another nearby post office.

Eddington customers also were asked which business hours they would prefer if the decision is to cut back to four hours a day.

“Meeting the needs of postal customers is, and will always be, a top priority. We continue to balance that by better aligning service options with customer demand and reducing the cost to serve,” Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe said when announcing the restructuring plan in May.

“With that said, we’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear — they want to keep their post office open. We believe today’s announcement will serve our customers’ needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability,” Donahoe said.

The new strategy will be implemented over two years, or by September 2014. Once it has been fully implemented, the USPS projects it will save a half billion dollars annually.

“The post offices in rural America will remain open unless a community has a strong preference for one of the other options,” USPS Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan said. “We will not close any of these rural post offices without having provided a viable solution.”

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