ERWIN — The results are in.
Flag Pond residents who responded to a survey previously distributed by the U.S. Postal Service are overwhelmingly in favor of seeing their post office remain open at reduced hours.
USPS officials met with members of the Flag Pond community at the Flag Pond Post Office on Monday afternoon to discuss the results the survey and what the future may hold for the post office.
In July 2011, the USPS announced it studying around 3,700 post offices across the country for possible closure due to financial struggles. The Flag Pond Post Office was included on this list.
But due to public vocalness against the closure of these post offices, the USPS announced in May a new 2-year strategy to keep small, rural post offices open by reducing daily retail window hours at each. \
To go along with the announcement of this strategy, referred to as the “Post Plan,” the USPS released a list of around 13,000 post offices, a little more than 250 of which are located in Tennessee, at which retail hours could be reduced. Aside from the Flag Pond Post Office, other post offices on this list included the Butler and Watauga post offices.
The USPS proposed retail hours at the Butler Post Office be reduced from 8 hours to 6 hours proposed hours at the Flag Pond and Watauga post offices be reduced from 8 to 4 hours.
“If any of you were here last year, I was here talking about closing the post office,” Kristi Hamilton, the acting manager of post office operations for East Tennessee, told those gathered at the Flag Pond Post Office. “But this year we’re not. They’re come up with Post Plan to keep the post office open for the community and to keep your identity as well as your zip code.”
Surveys were sent to residents of the Flag Pond, Butler and Watauga communities several weeks ago seeking their input on the USPS’s best course of action with regards to their local post office. The surveys gave residents the options of having the USPS study the post office for closure and have retail and mail delivery service provided by a rural carrier, study it for closure and have a services provided by a contractor or at an alternate location, study the office for closure with P.O. Box service provided by another nearby post office, or to leave the post office open with reduced hours. The survey also allowed residents to provide the window hours they would prefer for their local post office if these hours are to be changed.
The survey was sent to 539 residents in the Flag Pond area, 155 of which responded.
Of those responding, 130, or 84 percent, wanted to see the post office remain open with realigned hours. Five of those responding selected the rural carrier, and three responses favored the nearby post office option. None of those who responded selected “village post office” option, which pertains to the use of a contractor or nearby business.
The USPS is looking at Monday through Friday retail hours of 1-5 p.m. at the Flag Pond Post Office, though these proposed hours are subject to change. Saturday hours of 7:30-10 a.m. would remain unchanged, and the office’s lobby would retain 24-hour access.
“Total Saturday window service hours will not be reduced and access to delivery receptacles will not change as a result of the Post Plan realignment of weekday window service hours,” a document detailing the survey results states.
Hamilton said the USPS looked at walk-in traffic and revenue, which is around $50 per day in Flag Pond, when developing the Post Plan. She said the plan, which is set for completion in September 2014, will be reevaluated in 2014.
“Six months ago, we were looking at closing offices,” she said. “Now, this is a different option. So I don’t want to say that, yes, it will never be closed. I can’t say that. It could, but it very well could not.”
Once a final determination has been made, Hamilton said a notice on the office’s hours will be posted at the Flag Pond Post Office within the next 30 days. She said this notice will give an exact date of when the retail hours changes would go into effect, but that they would not become effective before Jan. 12.
“Everything will stay in place for this year,” she said.
Results of the survey are similar among residents of the Watauga and Butler areas. It was sent to 914 residents in the Watauga area, 279 of which responded. Of those responding, 241, or 86 percent, favored leaving the office open with realigned hours. The USPS is looking at Monday through Friday retail hours there of 12:30-4:30 p.m.
In Butler, 566 of the 2,173 residents who received the survey responded. Of those, 475, or 84 percent, want to see the office remain open with realigned hours. The USPS is looking at Monday through Friday hours there of 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with an 11 a.m. to noon lunch period.