Meetings set in Watauga, Flag Pond, Butler on future of post offices

Brad Hicks • Oct 26, 2012 at 11:49 PM

More information on the fates of three area post offices will be revealed Monday, as officials with the U.S. Postal Service will meet with residents in possibly affected areas to discuss the results of a USPS public input survey seeking direction from these residents in regard to their local post offices.

USPS officials will hold meetings at the Flag Pond Post Office at 2:30 p.m., the Watauga Post Office at 4:30 p.m., and the Butler Post Office at 6:30 p.m.

In July 2011, the USPS announced it was studying around 3,700 post offices across the country for possible closure, a list that included the Flag Pond Post Office. But in May the USPS announced a strategy to stave off closure of the nation’s small, rural post offices open by reducing operational hours at each facility.

To go along with the announcement of this strategy, the USPS released a list of around 13,000 post offices at which hours could possibly be reduced and its proposed daily retail hours for each.

The USPS proposed retail hours at the Butler Post Office be reduced from 8 hours to 6 hours, and the hours at the Flag Pond and Watauga post offices be reduced from 8 hours to 4 hours.

“It was sort of a win-win situation,” USPS spokesman David Walton said Friday of the strategy. “It allowed us to keep the facility open at reduced hours, which saved us money, but it also allowed the communities to keep their post office open.”

Walton said before any changes take place, the USPS will hold community meetings.

The surveys were sent out around two weeks ahead of these meetings for the USPS to garner community input on if residents want to see their local post offices remain open with reduced hours and what hours they prefer.

The surveys asked residents to choose what they felt was the best course of action for USPS from four choices — to keep the post offices open, with hours reduced to those proposed by the USPS; to conduct a discontinuance study for the post office, which would result in retail and mail delivery service being provided by a rural carrier; to conduct a discontinuance study for the office, with an alternate location to be operated by a contractor or local business; or to conduct a discontinuance study for the office, with P.O. Box services provided by another nearby post office.

The surveys asked residents to give the hours they would prefer if window hours at their local post office are changed.

Walton said the USPS’s hour reduction strategy will be implemented in phases, and is set to be completed in September 2014. He said the public meetings held as part of this strategy are first being done at post offices with “vacancies,” meaning they have no sitting postmaster.

A final decision regarding a particular office will not be made until after the public meeting is held. If a community opts to keep its post office open at reduced hours, the decision regarding those hours would be posted at the facility the week after the public meeting, Walton said. Changes to the post office’s hours would not take effect until 30 days after the new hours are posted.

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