PORTAGE - Post office customers in Portage delivered a strong message to the U.S. Postal Service Wednesday afternoon - customers should be handled with care despite budget cuts.
|Post office in Portage is one of 16 in Wood County in line for reduced hours of operation (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Nearly 30 residents attended a meeting held by the postal service to talk about potential cuts in hours at the Portage post office. The office is one of 16 in Wood County, and approximately 13,000 nationwide that may have hours trimmed in order to cut back on postal expenses.
Many of the small town postal customers don't get home delivery and can only receive mail in their post office boxes.
The shortened hours are the result of considerable protest lodged earlier this year when the postal service proposed closing many rural offices across the country. The outcry in rural communities led to Plan B - a reduction in hours in those post offices that don't pull in as much revenue as others.
"We believe this is a fair and viable solution," Ellen Rohrbacher, a manager of Post Office operations in Northwest Ohio, told Portage area residents Wednesday.
The limited hours are expected to save up to $500 million annually, which should help the U.S. Postal Service turn around a struggling budget that is suffering from a decline in first class mail, and which has not been subsidized by tax dollars since 1982, Rohrbacher explained.
"We are trying to make practical business decisions and serve our customers at the same time," she said.
Every community affected by the proposed cuts will get surveys in the mail, asking residents if they would prefer different hours at their post office, delivery at home but no post office, or the option of using another nearby post office.
Of the 189 surveys returned from Portage area residents, an overwhelming majority (87 percent) preferred an realignment of hours from eight to six each weekday.
That may mean the office will be open from 8 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. during the week, instead of 7 to 11 a.m. and 12:30 to 4:15 p.m. Saturday hours would remain the same.
"There's very little impact to your community," Rohrbacher said.
But the residents didn't see it that way. The service they have counted on despite snow, sleet, rain or hail, is now being threatened by budget cuts.
"How would you expect working people to get a package?" asked Portage resident Michael Brinkman. Currently, he can pick up items at 7 a.m., prior to work.
|Portage area residents gather for meeting on post office
Rohrbacher suggested that residents pick up such items on the weekends, or have a family member retrieve it.
At times the meeting got rather heated, with Rohrbacher calling residents "belligerent" and residents calling her "condescending."
Local businessman Joe Amend echoed the need for early hours.
"It's important to me that the office be open at 7 a.m.," he said.
Rohrbacher assured citizens she would take their comments back to those making the final decisions. As of right now, the cuts are just proposed, not a certainty, she stressed.
She also said postal customers would still have access to their post boxes starting at 7 a.m., since the postmaster would be there sorting mail, just not working the window.
Resident Ron Amos questioned how the postal service expected to cut costs if the postmaster would still be working the same hours.
"I don't see where you're accomplishing anything," he said.
Another customer, Linda Canterbury suggested that the postal service not sacrifice too much in an effort to balance the budget.
"I think you're losing sight of customer service," Canterbury said. Portage customers don't want to go to the Bowling Green office for service, she said. In fact, many of those customers drive the few miles to Portage to mail items. "They don't want to stand in line in Bowling Green."
If the U.S. Postal Service cared about customers, Canterbury said, it would hold public meetings during the evenings so working people could attend - not in the afternoon, such as the Portage meeting.
Canterbury asked if the Bowling Green office would see its hours cut.
"No, because they make enough revenue," Rohrbacher said. The Bowling Green office, however, has seen staffing cuts by not replacing six retiring workers.
Brinkman suggested the postal service return to its core mission.
"The postal service was a service. It doesn't come across that way anymore," he said.
After listening to residents, Rohrbacher said she would take back the message that customers want better access to their post office boxes.
"That is very clear," she said, adding that if changes are made to the post office building it may be possible to make the boxes open around the clock. There is no guarantee, however, since the post office building is rented and would need to be renovated to secure the office area when the boxes are open to the public.
"I don't want you to think we're not listening, because we are," Rohrbacher said. "I understand how strongly you feel about your access."
Rohrbacher predicted that any changes decided upon will not take place until February or March. Any changes will be posted in the office prior to going into effect.
Across the nation, more than 13,000 post offices may have their hours of operation trimmed to cut back on U.S. Postal Service expenses.
In Wood County, 16 post offices are in line for cuts. They are listed below with the current and proposed hours:
• Bradner, 8 to 4 hours
• Custar, 6 to 4 hours
• Cygnet, 8 to 6 hours
• Dunbridge, 8 to 4 hours
• Haskins, 8 to 4 hours
• Hoytville, 8 to 2 hours
• Jerry City, 8 to 4 hours
• Lemoyne, 8 to 4 hours
• Luckey, 8 to 6 hours
• Portage, 8 to 6 hours
• Risingsun, 8 to 6 hours
• Rudolph, 8 to 4 hours
• Stony Ridge, 8 to 4 hours
• Tontogany, 8 to 4 hours
• Wayne, 8 to 6 hours
• West Millgrove, 8 to 2 hours