January 25, 2013






Reduced post office hours explained at meetings in county
 by Mary Alice Look


     The reduction in hours at post offices throughout the U.S. is now proceeding, with meetings to explain the changes having been held recently by the U.S. Postal Service in five Washington County communities, including Whiting and Cutler, and with meetings now scheduled in Pembroke and Robbinston.
     Along with community meetings in Whiting and Cutler on January 15, in Jonesport on January 16, in Cherryfield on January 23 and Machiasport on January 24, meetings are currently scheduled for Wednesday, January 30, at 4 p.m. at the Robbinston Post Office and at 5:30 p.m. at the Pembroke Post Office. The retail hours at the Whiting and Cutler post offices are being reduced from eight hours to four; Pembroke's daily retail hours would be reduced from eight hours to six, and Robbinston's would be cut from eight hours to four.

Changes outlined at Whiting meeting
     The new hours for the Whiting Post Office will be from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, starting probably in April. This change is part of the POST Plan presented to Whiting postal customers by Sue Mills, manager of postal operations, on Tuesday afternoon, January 15. The POST Plan affects window hours only Monday through Friday and is "designed to realize savings," said Mills. The collection hour will remain the same, which is 3:30 p.m. in Whiting, and Saturday hours will not change. They will still be from 9 to 11 a.m.
     Lobby hours will be 24/7, which is a major change and will ensure that postal patrons will have "no less access to their boxes than now." Before this change in lobby access, an "inspection service will look at security issues and modifications will be made," said Mills. In reply to Whiting resident Len Healy's question, "Why do we need 24-hour access?," she responded that this was the decision of the postmaster general and will be in effect "throughout the country."
     Another resident, Carey Crosby, asked how the change might affect a nearby farm that receives baby chicks by mail. Mills explained that chicks are sent when they are less than a day old and the receiver is usually called to pick up the chicks. She said that, even if overtime is required to "babysit the chicks," the post office has done it before and will continue to do so.
     Mills explained that parcel lockers in two sizes will be available for persons needing to receive a parcel after window hours have closed. A parcel pickup card will be placed in that individual's post office box along with a key and a placard for the appropriate parcel locker. The patron then will go to the parcel locker, use the key and remove their package. The key will stay in the parcel locker so that there will be no concern for lost keys.
     Mills said that patrons can continue to purchase stamps by mail. An order form and check would be placed in an envelope addressed to the postmaster and put in the collection box. The next day the stamps will be found in the person's post office box.
     To authorize any changes in instructions for the delivery of a package, patrons can call the number on their package notification card, which is 1‑800‑ASK‑USPS. Local post office numbers are no longer listed in telephone directories. Mills said that there were too many interruptions when the numbers were listed.
     Before the meeting, 207 surveys had been mailed in Whiting by the postal service, with 73 being returned. Seventy‑one percent of surveys returned indicated a preference for realignment of hours. Fourteen percent, four percent and five percent preferred delivery option, village post office option and nearby post office option, respectively. Five percent made no selection. A "village post office" under this plan is one that is "located within the existing community in a variety of locations, such as local retailers, libraries, town halls or government centers, and is run by the proprietor or respective management."
     It was mentioned at the meeting that earlier morning hours would be more convenient for some. However, it was noted that Wendell McLaughlin, the postmaster relief, would be required to return to the post office at 3:30 p.m. for the collection time. It was decided to use the 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule so McLaughlin's time there would be a continuous block. He will be expected to spend four hours and 20 minutes at the site each week day. The extra 20 minutes will be spent in opening the office, doing necessary paperwork, dispatching the mail and closing.

Cutler changes
     Mills traveled to Cutler following her meeting at Whiting. After a general explanation of the cost‑saving plan by a reduction of window hours, she explained that the Cutler Post Office will also be reduced to a four‑hour window operation for Monday through Friday. The Saturday hours will remain the same C 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. When the POST Plan takes effect, the hours for Cutler will be 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The closing time will coincide with Cutler's collection time of 4 p.m. Abby Ganon, the Cutler postmaster relief, will work four hours, plus 20 minutes for activities similar to those at Whiting.
     Mills explained that the reduction in hours is based on the number of boxes at the respective post office, the number of carrier boxes and the amount of mail, as well as the number of workers needed to handle the volume.
     One patron objected to the proposed hours, and Mills replied that additionally there would be "24-hour lobby service" after modifications are made based on a security assessment by the inspection service. She added that time locks are also a possibility, with battery back‑up in case of a power outage.
     Mills explained that business owners who want to keep their volume of mail to support the Cutler Post Office could purchase a postage meter, buy stamps by mail with an envelope from the post office or carrier, and buy a scale and purchase the postage online.
      Twenty‑four hour access to the post office will require additional shoveling and snow removal during the winter months. Mills said that it might "make sense" to have offices "maintained from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m."
     A question was asked concerning the continuation of the present "interface with FedEx and UPS." Mills said this arrangement "will be the same." Mills added, "We go to every address. ... We take packages; they fly our mail."
     A patron asked, "Why hasn't [the post office] stopped Saturday deliveries?" Mills answered, "It's still in the works, but not OK'd yet. A board of governors runs the post office, which is a quasi‑government agency. It is not tax‑supported."
     Cutler was sent 255 customer surveys, with 92 being returned. Seventy‑eight percent of customers surveyed preferred a realignment of hours, with eight percent of customers making no selection of the offered choices. Five percent of customers chose the delivery option, with the same percent choosing the village post office option and three percent choosing the nearby post office option.
     Mills said that all post offices will be re‑evaluated in 2014, and she encouraged everyone "to do business at their own post office," adding that it only takes a patron or two to make the difference between moving down to a two‑hour facility or moving up to a six‑hour one. The 2014 assessment will be based on the 2013 fiscal year for the post office, which started on October 1, 2012.
     Mills told patrons at Whiting and at Cutler to be the "resource for the rest of the town that didn't come" to the meetings. There were 14 patrons in attendance in Cutler and 11 in Whiting.
     Once the reduction in hours strategy is fully implemented in the U.S. in 2014, the postal service estimates savings of a half billion dollars annually. The postal service has been experiencing a significant decline in the amount of mail that is sent and lost $16 billion last year.

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