T he Clemons post office has been saved after the U.S. Postal Service reversed course on a plan that would have closed thousands of offices around the country.
But while the plan ensures that the small one-room post office will remain operational, it and several other offices in the region will see their retail hours reduced, some by as much as 50 percent.
The postal service announced last summer that Clemons was one of 3,700 low-revenue rural post offices that were targeted for closure as the struggling agency attempted to address its mounting financial woes, blamed largely on the increased use of online communication and rising costs.
But the agency launched a new strategy last Wednesday that will keep those offices open.
“This is in response to what we have heard from rural customers who want to maintain their identity, zip code and continue to have a postal presence in their community,” said Dennis Tarney, a spokesperson for the postal service.
The plan would affect operations at 13,000 locations around the country, with many seeing a reduction in retail hours based on customer use.
A majority of those offices will shift to a part-time structure with a reduction of two to six hours.
Clemons will see retail hours reduced from eight hours a day to two. Putnam Station, Huletts Landing, Hampton and North Granville will see their hours halved, from eight to four. The Middle Granville office will see a two hour reduction, from eight to six.
The reduction is expected to affect retail hours only. Access to post office boxes will not change.
Tarney said the offices were chosen based on location, workload, and costumer volume.
“It came down to how many hours make sense for the number of customer visits,” Tarney said.
Any office that was 25 miles or further from the nearest postal service provider would remain open for at least six hours a day regardless of the amount of retail business it experiences, he said.
The plan, which still needs approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), would start to go into affect after Labor Day and be complete by the fall of 2014.
Stephanie Valle, a representative from Congressman Chris Gibson’s office, said they were happy with the postal service decision to keep the offices open.
“Congressman Gibson has been a co-sponsor of a bill that seeks to ensure rural post offices aren’t disproportionately cut. That’s been a big focus of ours,” Valle said.
The plan also includes early retirement buyouts for 21,000 full-time postmasters at locations around the country.
Tarney said the agency expects the buyouts to create a number of opportunities that will be filled by current employees. Most will be part-time positions.
A public comment period will be held to gauge opinion on the new plan, postal service officials said.
On its website, the agency said survey research conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) in February, showed 54 percent of rural customers would prefer the new solution to maintain their local post office.
The announcement comes a few weeks after the Senate approved a measure to give the postal service an $11 billion cash infusion, mostly from overpayments it made into one of its pension funds.
The measure would have also placed a one-year moratorium on the closure of all rural post offices.
But that plan was criticized by the postal service for not giving the agency enough latitude to make the decision it needed to remain solvent and the agency was set to close thousands of post offices beginning this week.
Last week’s announcement puts those plans on hold. Officials estimate the new strategy could save the agency $500 million a year.
The agency posted an $8 billion deficit last year and post office visits have declined 27 percent since 2005.