Thursday, November 10, 2011
Waterford wants to save P.O.
By SUE WATSON
Sixty-four residents in the Waterford Post Office mailing area listened intently last week to the chance the post office will be closed as early as next year.
Dana Amos, manager of post office operations for 200 post offices, said he has been busy of late going to rural communities like Waterford to discuss possible closings. Eighty post offices, most rural, are on study lists for possible closing in Mississippi, he said, with 64 of those added to the list this summer.
Some other areas where the talk has been given are Tiplersville, Etta, Dumas and Michigan City.
Amos said 80 post offices in Mississippi lack a postmaster because the postal service knows these are on the study list for possible closing.
His job during the public hearing was to inform the residents about how the process works. He has no say in whether a post office will be closed or remain open. That is up to politicians in Washington and to the postmaster general and high ranking officials.
Amos said the closing of the Waterford Post Office is not a done deal. Lots of offices on the study list were not closed. Amos said he does not know all the facts entering into the decision but advised residents to write the postmaster general justifying their reasons the office should remain open. They may also write their U.S. senators (Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran) and congressman, he said. The post office provides a package of information that can be used in commenting on the matter. Local and state officials have no say in the matter but can forward comments to the Mississippi delegation in Washington, D.C.
He suggested points of use in composing letters would be that the area served is rural and most people cannot afford to take care of business over the Internet or even afford an Internet connection – and sometimes Internet is lacking.
Amos listed some factors that may weigh against keeping a rural post office open:
• offices with more than one route have a better chance to stay.
• offices that are 10 miles or more away from another post office have a better chance to stay than those with one closer.
• a long-term lease of the building works in favor of keeping the office.
• if there are other ways a community can be served, the post office may be closed.
• the number of window transactions – sales of stamps, money orders, envelopes, etc. and the number of pieces of mail coming in and going out may be factors in keeping the post office.
• the public comments including personal stories may become a factor in keeping an office open.
Conway Moore said her mother and father were both postmasters and she used to sleep on the mail sacks. Her memories are important to keeping a post office in Waterford, especially since most businesses in the community have dried up, she said.
The postal service provides 60 days for public comment in the first round before making a decision. The decision to close takes from five to 15 days in Washington.
If the decision is to close, the public has another 30 days to appeal the closing and then the office will stay open another 60 days, if the appeal is lost.
Amos said with the process the earliest the office could be closed is early March 2012.
If the post office closes, the route will remain intact and mail delivery would be initiated from another location such as Abbeville or Holly Springs, he said. Abbeville Post Office probably is too small, Amos said.
Addresses and zip codes on the route would remain the same but post office boxes would probably go unless there is a business that would offer a safe and accessible place inside for the boxes – a village post office.
If the office closes, people will have to go to another office to get packages weighed, money orders and stamps. The rural carrier can provide stamps at the mail box and take a mail order and return it the next day.
Individuals would have to travel 11-12 miles to pick up a package unless they arrange to meet the rural carrier at the mail box.
In providing background, Amos said the postal service has been in financial trouble since 1970. Federal subsidies were eliminated and the postal service had to raise its own revenue to pay for everything.
In 2000, mail volume began to decline and the 911 attack on the United States caused a business recession and drop off in mailings. Following that, the anthrax scare at the postal service caused a drop in Christmas card mailings of 40 percent the first year. Then business started going to the Internet as a tool to pay bills and to communicate. Revenue dropped from year 2008 to 2009 by 11.9 percent to just over $41 billion.
The service continues to reduce employees by attrition and stands now at 57,000 employees. Other cost-cutting efforts include closing expensive offices (like in downtown Memphis, Tenn.) and eliminating middle management. But the service projects a loss of $10 billion this year, Amos said. Sustaining the employee retirement fund is putting heavy pressure on the postal service, he said.
The retirement revenue began shrinking in 2006, he said.
Stamp prices have not helped keep up with shrinking revenue. Next year the price of a stamp will go up another penny.
With shrinking revenue, the postal service cannot maintain its current workforce. Big city post offices are not hurting but rural areas do not have enough employees in some cases. And there is not enough work for an 8-hour day at some of these.
Although the postal service has taken many measures to cut costs and maintain service, the measures so far have not been effective entirely, Amos said.
The service believes that closing some offices, increasing rates, shifting hours and work loads and other measures, may help. Backing down to a five-day week could help, if the measure is taken. There are a lot of different schools of thought, Amos said.
State Sen. Bill Stone said he believes the post office should subsidize rural areas like other public services do - such as telephones.
Amos said the postal service was never designed to make money, but to break even. Advertising mailings have dropped with some big offices seeing a $100 million drop in revenue, he said.
Conway Moore said this is the second time the Waterford Post Office has been on the chopping block, surviving the first attack. She said the area has lots of elderly who depend on money orders to handle their business. They cannot afford computers or Internet.
Cherrie Shaw asked if letters to the congressmen should be copied to the postal service.
Amos said keep letters concise, put more personal information in the letter, cite sentimental values and send letters to post master general as well as to Congress.
Clay Moore asked if Internet access should also be included as well as the cost of that service. Amos said it should and that the burden Internet service would put on low-income individuals should be cited.
Moore asked about the historical value of the Waterford Post Office as a place where William Faulkner stopped in and played checkers with his grandfather should be included. Amos said there is no sign the economy is coming back, certainly not fast enough to correct the problem. The U.S. Postal Service is one of the 100 largest companies in the world, he said.
Conway Moore asked if the closings list was started before the recession, and Amos said no. But he did cite a strong downturn in postal service use in the last 10 years and the closing of processing centers all over the country.
Jim Robinson asked if there were layoffs when processing centers were closed.
Amos said there were some targeted early retirements in some markets offered where there were too many employees. In order to not be laid off, the service sometimes offers a transfer to another job.
Gary Looney asked if the postal service is considering closing one of the two offices in Holly Springs.
Amos said the service paid for the land and building at the Ida B. Wells Post Office and that the downtown post office is used heavily by the business district, which opposes the loss of convenience. Service could be reduced in downtown, however, he said.
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