USPS restructures office times nationwide to avoid closings

HERSEY — As continuing advances in technology usher in an era of instant communication, quicker, faster and easier ways to communicate are threatening to make the United States Postal Service obsolete. Due to a drop in customer retail visits from 1.28 million in 2005 to .93 million in 2011, USPS considered closing more than half of its 25,000 post offices around the nation last year. After customers opposed the idea, the service decided instead, to fight to keep smaller branches open. In hopes of avoiding the closure of rural post office branches, the United States Postal Service is implementing the Post Office Structure Plan nationwide. The plan will realign hours of small office branches to fit the work load and client needs, in hopes of saving the service $500 million in the next two years. “This new initiative is to keep offices like Hersey open,” said Curt Betker, post master for the Williamsburg Post Office who conducted a survey for the new initiative. “We are realigning offices with the kind of work load that is appropriate for that office.” Around 15 Hersey residents came to a town hall meeting Tuesday, hosted by Betker, to inform residents of the new initiative and answer questions. Betker presented results of the survey sent out to Hersey residents, in which 83 percent of 346 residents who responded said they would be most in favor of realignment of post office hours, rather than using another post office, visiting a post office window within a business or using post office delivery and pick up services. The responses and the total work load of the office were used to calculate a 15-minute cutback in open hours at the Hersey office per day. The office currently is open from 8:45 a.m. to noon, with an hour break from noon to 1 p.m. The office will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a break from noon to 1 p.m. after the initiative takes effect in a month. Hersey Post Office manager Donna Ward said the 15-minute change in time is not as significant as she had anticipated. “They were talking about closing smaller branches a year ago, so this is better than the alternative,” Ward said. In the “496” zipcode area, 20 post offices met the criteria to be realigned, including the Sears Post Office, which was open for only two hours each day and now will be open four hours each day. Most of the offices will see a reduction of one or two hours each day, Betker said. “Customers didn’t want to lose their offices, so hopefully this will meet customer’s needs,” Betker said. “It’s one of the many steps we’re trying to achieve to get back to being a viable entity.” The Unites States Postal Service began as a federally-funded government department, but transitioned out of government jurisdiction in the 1970s. By 1982, the service began to operate solely on retail funds, without collecting tax dollars from citizens. “For us to be able to continue this, these are some of the initiatives we’re looking at taking,” Betker said. For Hersey resident Ray Czarnik, the post office is an important part of the country’s history. “Many of us grew up with the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.” Kids will say in the future, ‘What’s this movie all about? What’s a post office?’” Czarnik said at the town hall meeting. “And that’s sad, it’s really sad.” When asked by another resident if the initiative would be the beginning of a continuing process of service decreases, Betker said the future is unknown. “I don’t know what the future holds,” Betker said. “This meeting, along with meetings held around the country are to address what’s happening now.” Though the future of services offered by the office is unknown, USPS does have plans to continue to make staffing cuts in upcoming years. After decreasing the number of employees from 800,000 in 2007 to 625,000 currently, the service will cut an additional 200,000 in the next four years.