By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Area residents will have a chance later this month to speak out on a proposal to reduce operating hours at 10 local post offices.
Hearings have been scheduled by the U.S. Postal Service for post offices in Kimball, Glenwood, Rock, Roderfield and Montcalm in West Virginia and for post offices in Virginia including Ceres, Rocky Gap, Eggleston and Narrows.
In total, the postal service has proposed reductions in hours for 10 post offices in Mercer County, 26 in McDowell County, 10 in Tazewell County, two in Bland County, four in Giles County, and two in Buchanan County.
Cathy Yarosky, a spokesperson with the U.S. postal service, said the postal service is looking to reduce hours of operation at many post offices to reduce costs while still keeping rural post offices open. Yarosky said more meetings at rural post offices will be announced as they are scheduled.
“A new strategy — post plan — designed to preserve rural post offices, was announced May 9 of this year,” Yarosky said. “It refines the postal service’s approach regarding post office structure by offering an option that could keep most existing post offices in place, but with modified retail hours to match customer use. Access to the retail lobby and P.O. boxes will remain unchanged, and the town’s zip code and community identity will be retained. The new option consists of maintaining the existing post office, staffed by a postal employee, with modified retail hours to match customer use. The need to realign these offices to match today’s community activity, mailing habits, and postal resources is critical.”
Yarosky said there are three components to the new plan that will be discussed with residents.
“The new strategy complements existing options,” she said. “We are working to provide mail-delivery service to residents and businesses in the affected community by either rural carrier or by highway contract route. We will be contracting with a local establishment, creating a village post office, and offering services to residents from a nearby post office. The new strategy would be implemented over a two-year period and would not be completed until September 2014.”
Yarosky said community input is vital for the postal service.
“Community meetings and surveys will be conducted to review the options in greater detail,” she said. “Communities will be notified of the date, time and location of these meetings by letter. Although retail sales and foot traffic for most post offices has declined significantly in recent years, the postal service has received considerable feedback from communities around the country, requesting their post office remain open for business.”
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., issued a statement Friday encouraging local residents to attend the public hearings and become educated about the postal service’s plans.
“I strongly encourage all those who are concerned about the future operation of their local post office to participate in the public process,” Rahall said. “I urge residents and businesses to inform themselves about how it will impact them, and allow their voices to be heard. In the last two years, the U.S. Postal Service announced the potential closure of 150 post offices in West Virginia, affecting roughly one in four postal facilities in our region, along with an aggressive schedule to close mail processing and distribution facilities in Huntington, Beckley, and Bluefield.”
Rahall said the present plans by the postal service could severely reduce needed hours at many rural post offices and expressed “frustration” that many rural post offices have been targeted in the new post plan. According to Rahall, many locations facing the steepest reduction in hours lack Internet and other needed infrastructure the postal service has told customers they can use as an alternative.
“Our residents and businesses, especially in areas lacking sufficient Internet access, depend on the postal service as the only convenient and realistic option for safely retrieving and sending mail — whether a monthly benefit check, vital prescription medication, or a parcel pickup for a routine business transaction,” Rahall said. “West Virginians know better than most that our post offices are neighborhood gatherings spots and can be the heart of communities, giving a small town its own distinctive identity.”
Rahall said residents can give input on postal routes and delivery, operation hours and many other topics during the upcoming public hearings.
“The postal service wants to know what hours of operation a community prefers and whether alternatives including roadside delivery, the opening of a contractor-operated facility, or post office box service at a neighboring post office may be preferred,” Rahall said. “Affected residents and businesses can expect to be notified of the date, time and location of a community meeting, at which the survey results will be discussed. Final decisions about the future of the post office will be posted in the post office lobby no sooner than seven days after the community meeting.”
— Contact Kate Coil at email@example.com