New plan may keep post offices open |

New plan may keep post offices open

CVR Wolcott PO KA 5-11-12

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – It looks like the U.S. Postal Service has found a way to keep small, rural post offices open, but the plan still has a possibly high cost.

The Postal Service this week announced it would keep its small post offices open but would cut service hours at those offices. That means people would be able to pick up and drop off mail as they do now, but service that requires human help would be available only a few hours per day.

Postal Service spokesman David Rupert said which hours the offices would be staffed will be finalized after Labor Day, after the Postal Regulatory Commission, the service’s oversight body, reviews the plan. Rupert said the Postal Service also will hold community meetings about the affected post offices.

But don’t expect offices to be open between 5 and 8 p.m. for the public, Rupert said. The hours will have to come sometime during a standard business day.

The plan came as “very good news” to Red Cliff resident Anuschka Bales.

“Obviously, we would love to see (Postmaster Diana Cisneros) there full time,” Bales said. “But if that’s a sacrifice we have to make, we can still access the post office.”

But the Postal Service plan means there will probably be some new faces at the counter during those shortened hours. As part of the plan, the Postal Service will offer early-retirement packages to about 21,000 postmasters around the country. Many of those people are the only people working at small post offices.

Those postmasters, all of whom are full-time employees with benefits, will probably be replaced by part-time employees, Rupert said. Those people won’t be eligible for full-time benefits, which is part of the reason the Postal Service estimates the plan will save roughly $500 million per year.

Jackie Schlegel works part time at post offices from Wolcott to Yampa. She said the Postal Service’s plan will probably work fine at very small offices.

“You could actually have some of those open every other day and it would be fine,” Schlegel said.

Still, losing postmasters in rural areas means more than just part-time people moving into formerly full-time jobs, Schlegel said.

“You can’t just replace the postmaster in these places,” Schlegel said. “You can’t replace the local knowledge they have.”

Rupert, though, wants people to look at the bigger picture – the long-term survival of the Postal Service. While this plan will save about $500 million per year, the Postal Service is on track to lose $8 billion. Making up those losses will require several acts of Congress. The Postal Service can close offices and ask employees to retire, but it needs congressional approval to scale back delivery to five days per week and cut back on the money it has to pre-pay into employee retirement and benefit programs. Without those and other fundamental changes, the Postal Service simply can’t survive, he said.

Bales said she hopes the Postal Service can get itself fixed but wondered if service cuts are the way to do it.

“It’s a shame that the Postal Service continues to make it more difficult to give them our money,” she said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@