The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 3, 2012

Meetings on tap on postal closures

At two upcoming Oct. 11 community meetings, residents in the Winona and Lookout areas of Fayette County will have a chance to voice their opinions about changes to their community post offices.

“Keep in mind, we are no longer talking about ‘closing’ offices,” says Cathy Yarosky, a spokesperson for the Postal Service.

“Instead, (the Postal Service is) realigning their retail hours so that these offices can remain open.”

The Postal Service announced in July 2011 that nearly 3,700 post offices nationwide would be studied for possible closure.

According to the Postal Service, consideration of whether to close a post office is just one strategy in a series of actions they are considering in the wake of continued mail volume decline, ongoing financial challenges and changing customer behavior.

In the months that followed the July 2011 announcement, thousands of community meetings were held and surveys were conducted in each affected location.

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.

The feedback generated by those meetings and surveys, and from stakeholders at every level, helped outline the new options being discussed now — a new strategy called Post Plan.

Post Plan is designed to preserve rural post offices, offering an option that could keep most existing post offices in place, but with modified retail hours to match customer use. The existing post office would be staffed by a postal employee.

Access to the retail lobby and to P.O. Boxes will remain unchanged, and the town’s ZIP Code and community identity will be retained.

It complements other options, which include mail delivery service through a rural carrier or highway contract route; contracting with a local establishment to create a Village Post Office; and offering services from a nearby post office.

The changes would be implemented over a two-year, multi-phased approach and would not be completed until September 2014.

At the upcoming community meetings, attendees will be given a customized informational handout detailing the results of the survey for that respective community.

All information received from the survey and comments made at the meeting will be taken into account to make the decisions regarding the status of the Post Office.

The total savings from the Post Plan are projected to exceed a half billion dollars per year after the plan’s completion in 2014.

In terms of the changes’ impacts on employees, Yarosky says the postal service “will work diligently to ensure the impact on employees is minimal.” All the post offices will be staffed with postal service employees.

The community meeting for Winona will be at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 11 at the Mount Olive Methodist Church in Lookout. Then at 7 p.m., a meeting for Lookout residents is planned for the same location.

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