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Public postal hearings ongoing throughout region: USPS survey also playing key role in decision process

Posted: Thursday, Oct 25th, 2012

YANKTON — Local residents can learn more during next week’s hearings on the United States Postal Service (USPS) proposal to cut hours at area post offices.

Under the proposal, known as POST Plan, the USPS would reduce hours at more than 13,000 post offices nationwide as a budget-cutting measure. Other alternatives include mail delivery by rural carrier or highway contract route; contracting with a local business to create a Village Post Office (VPO); or offering service from a nearby post office.

Next week’s meetings represent the next step in the process, said USPS spokesman Pete Nowacki.

“In September, we began the process of notifying communities of the changed hours of operations of local post offices and options available to them,” he said. “The public contact process consists of a survey and a community meeting.

“At the meetings, we will announce the survey results, provide information on the timeline going forward and answer customers’ questions.”

The USPS is currently holding meetings, all at the local post office. On Monday they met in Hudson and Jefferson while today they met in Gayville, Wakonda, Irene, and Mission Hill. Wednesday they will meet in Utica at noon; in Lesterville, at 1:30 p.m.; in Tabor at 3 p.m. and in Olivet at 5 p.m.

In addition, postal hearings will be held at noon Oct. 30 at Kaylor and at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 31 at Geddes.

The communities hosting next week’s meetings are not the only ones affected by the USPS proposal. About two dozen towns in southeast South Dakota and about a dozen towns in northeast Nebraska would see reduced hours.

In southeast South Dakota, Centerville, Menno, Scotland, Springfield, Viborg, Armour, Avon and Tripp would be reduced to six hours.

Chancellor, Gayville, Hurley, Irene, Jefferson, Lesterville, Mission Hill, Tabor, Wakonda, Delmont, Geddes and Pickstown would be reduced to four hours.

Davis, Olivet, Utica, Volin and Kaylor would be reduced to two hours.

Next week’s USPS meetings will look at survey results and offer residents a chance to speak, Nowacki said.

“If a resident did not return their survey by the date specified, it won’t be included in the tabulation that is presented at the community meeting,” he said. “However, it will be part of the record and gives the resident an opportunity to make their concerns known if they can’t make it to the meeting. Any comments and questions brought up at the meeting will be recorded as well.”

USPS officials will weigh the comments and information before taking action, Nowacki said.

“A week or so after the meeting, we will issue a final decision and post that in the office,” he said. “The changes will not go into effect until at least a month after that posting, and no changes will be made during the holiday period of Dec. 1 to Jan 12.”

The changes will impact window service only, Nowacki said. There will be no changes as to when post office boxes can be accessed or to mail collections and delivery services.

“We will also work with communities to expand the use of village post offices in these communities. VPOs are located within an existing business and managed by the proprietors,” he said.

“It is possible that a community could have both a regular post office open for 2-6 hours a day and a VPO located within a store where customers could buy stamps and send Priority Mail packages during that business’s regular hours.”

The USPS proposal has drawn concern not only from affected postal patrons but also from former postmasters.

Dennis Nemmers and Judy Ann Barnard, representing the South Dakota Retired Postmasters, submitted a letter to the Press & Dakotan regarding the USPS proposal. Nemmers and Barnard addressed their letter to communities affected by changes in post office hours.

“As part of the POST Plan, if these post offices do not have a postmaster, the post office hours will be reduced to either two hours per day or four hours per day,” they wrote. “Post offices with these hours will not be run by a career postal employee.”

The USPS proposal for reduced hours at a large number of post offices represents a change from an earlier proposal to close certain post offices.

The change represents both good and bad, Nemmers and Barnard wrote.

“It is good the post office will be open in your community,” they wrote. “It is bad if there is ‘no one available’ to run the post office for the two hours or four hours per day. This is because the USPS has determined to use ‘non-career’ employees to run these offices. If there is ‘no one available,’ the post office will be closed.”

The two retired postmasters urged constituents to contact their state’s congressional delegation.

“Let our elected U.S. senators and U.S. representative know right now that you and your community members are concerned with what will happen if there is indeed ‘no one available,’” they wrote. “Your post office will be closed — period, end of story, without any input or information sharing between your community members and the USPS.”

For South Dakotans, the respective websites for U.S. Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) are johnson.senate.gov and thune.senate.gov. The website for U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) is noem.house.gov.

“It is very important that communities understand that the most important part of the process begins with completing the survey, because that is the information that begins the process and determines what will be discussed at the community meetings,” Nemmers and Barnard wrote.

“Without the surveys, the community meeting will have little meaning at all.”

Unlike post office closings, the community is being asked to make one of four choices, the former postmasters said.

“Possibly, communities feel none of the choices are acceptable, but only the first choice (of reduced hours) keeps the post office open,” they wrote. “It is extremely important that customers complete the survey as it will determine if the office stays open or not.”

The first offices will be reduced Nov. 17, they noted, with the next offices starting Jan. 12, 2013, until all vacant POST Plan offices have had the changes implemented.

“After your USPS/town meeting, write down any questions you have that did not get answered,” Nemmers and Barnard wrote. “Send the original copy to the USPS Dakotas District Manager, the USPS Western Area Vice President and to the closest local state office of both U.S. senators and your U.S. representative. The addresses of the South Dakota congressional delegation are listed in local newspapers.”

The mail addresses are as follows:

• USPS Dakotas District Manager, PO Box 7500, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-7500; Phone: (605) 333-2604

• USPS Western Area Vice President, 1745 Stout Street, Suite 1000, Denver, CO 80299-5000; Phone: (303) 313-5100

The information in the letter is provided by Retired South Dakota Postmasters, Nemmers and Barnard wrote.

“Let us do together,” they added, “what we cannot do alone.”

For the complete article see the 10-24-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-24-2012 paper.

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