Alpena, Beaver, Oak Grove post offices' hours to be cut
CARROLL COUNTY -- Three Carroll County post offices will either be closed or have their hours slashed under a plan aimed at saving the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service.
Post offices in Alpena, Beaver, and Oak Grove are among some 13,000 rural offices across the country facing similar fates under the Post Office Structure Plan, available for download here.
Leisa Tolliver-Gay, Postal Service spokeswoman, said the plan would scale back hours at the post offices' retail windows.
In Alpena, she said weekday hours would be reduced to six, from the current six and a half. In Beaver and Oak Grove, the agency is proposing much deeper cuts, from the current eight hours to two.
The plan would not affect residents' access to the retail lobby or post office boxes, she said. Saturday hours, already limited, would also remain unchanged, and the town would retain its post office and unique zip code.
Tolliver-Gay said the plan was necessary to cope with declining revenue, due to increased retail and internet sales, and a Congressional mandate that the agency pre-fund billions of dollars in retirement benefits.
According to a presentation posted on the USPS website, post offices nationwide served 27 percent fewer retail customers in 2011 than in 2005. According to the same presentation, 88 percent of rural post offices are now losing money.
The Postal Service says the new plan would save the agency some $500 million each year.
USPS officials have trumpeted the proposal as an improvement over an earlier solution that contemplated shuttering 3,700 post offices nationwide.
That plan, announced last summer, was greeted by protest in affected communities, who roiled at the idea of losing their zip codes, and often-historic post office buildings.
Even with the new proposal, closing the post offices is still an option, Tolliver-Gay said. However, that choice has been left to the affected communities.
Alpena residents were presented with all their options in an Oct. 3 letter and survey.
The survey presented three alternatives to reducing hours, all of which would mean closing the post office. Beaver and Oak Grove face the same choices.
The first of these options would replace existing service with roadside mailbox delivery. Retail and delivery service would be provided through a rural carrier.
Option No. two would provide for another storefront to be set up with a private contractor -- most likely a local business. This option is referred to by the Postal Service as a "Village Post Office."
The final option would consolidate service with a nearby post office.
Tolliver-Gay said, in most instances, people would likely prefer to keep their existing post office open with reduced hours. The USPS presentation cites a February 2012 survey by the Opinion Research Corporation that found 54 percent of rural customers preferred this option.
However, Toliver-Gay said some communities might opt instead to pursue the Village Post Office option. This, she said, is because retail outlets are often able to provide more extensive hours to consumers than a post office would.
It is not clear when a decision will be made about the post offices. However, it will likely be before the fall of 2014 --the deadline set by the Postal Service for implementation of the plan.
In addition to the survey, USPS officials said public meetings would be conducted in all three communities before any decision was made. At the meetings, survey results will be shared and questions answered. Officials will also solicit further input regarding the time of day the post offices should remain open, if residents should choose to keep them open.
In Alpena, a public meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 13, in the Alpena Community Center. As of Thursday, meetings had not yet been scheduled in Beaver or Oak Grove.
In the Alpena letter, residents were told they had until Oct. 30 to return the enclosed survey. However, USPS spokesperson Stephen Seewoester said this week that officials would consider any feedback received, even after the Oct. 30 deadline.
All feedback from the survey, community meeting, and elsewhere will be considered in making a final decision, Seewoester said.
According to the letter, the post office would remain open with reduced hours unless at least 60 percent of respondents expressed a desire for one of the other three options.
Those wanting to weigh in on the decision can write to:
Arkansas District - 2611
420 Natural Resources Dr.
Little Rock, AR 72205-1501.