The postal service is holding meetings in a number of Vermont communities this week.
The meetings are part of a series of public forums in advance of cutbacks at 141 of Vermont’s 262 post offices. They’re designed to give local patrons a chance to weigh in on a number of options.
About two dozen Barnard residents turned out Walt Rowland of the Postal Service explain that retail hours at the local post office will likely be from 8 to 4:30, but they will close for lunch from 11 to 1:30.
Rowland and other Postal Service representatives are leading meetings around Vermont.
There’s no debating that changes are coming to the small rural post offices – the meetings and a surveys sent out earlier are supposed to give residents a chance to choose which of four options they’d prefer:
One would keep the office open but reduce the hours of operation, the others would require closing the local Post Office and opting for rural delivery, post office boxes at another office or establishing what’s called a Village Post Office, which provides more limited services.
Steve Cota of Barnard wasn’t happy with any of the choices.
"I found the options to be extremely limited, it was basically do you want to get shot in the foot or in the leg?" Cota told Rowland.
Those at the meeting and many more who responded to the survey chose cutting back hours instead of closing the post office.
Tom Rizzo says that’s been the consensus in other Vermont communities facing cutbacks. Rizzo is spokesman for the Northern New England District at the U.S. Postal Service.
Rizzo says the Postal Service is likely to follow the advice of local patrons. In some cases hours are being cut from 8 to 6 hours, but many of the 141 Vermont post offices will see hours cut in half.
Rizzo says the savings come from reduced labor costs.
"It’s mostly the hours it takes to pay someone to staff an office that might get one customer in those two hours or four hours," He explains
Rizzo says none of the post offices currently employs full-time postmasters. The Postal Service, which is not taxpayer funded, lost $16 billon last year. The cuts to rural Post Ooffice hours will save just half a billion dollars.
Rizzo says it’s not clear what else the Postal Service will do to stem the continued loss of revenue as electronic transactions and correspondence take the place of traditional mail.
No matter what happens rural post office won’t be making a comeback.
Barnard residents tried to make the best of that Monday night by brainstorming how, even with reduced hours, the post office might be open one evening a week to serve working people. Many like Sepp Schenker were surprised that might be an option and liked the idea.
"I didn’t know that you could keep a post office open until 10 o’clock. To me it sounds like 5 o’clock is the norm," Schenker told Rowland at the meeting.
Whether evening hours are an option remains to be seen. The Postal Service’s Rizzo says typically only larger post offices are open late.
"It’s the first time I’ve heard that people have expressed an interest in the evening hours," he says.
Karen Stewart left the meeting at the Barnard General Store feeling that there are some uniquely local solutions worth investigating. She remembers a time when the town’s full service post office was located in the store and operated by the store owner.
Stewart believes that’s a solution that could help strengthen the community.
For now though Barnard and dozens of other Vermont towns will likely see reduced hours at their local post office with the next couple of months.