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Newest post office plan: Rural branches stay open, hours cut

May 13, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

The U.S. Postal Service has amended its latest cost-savings plan, proposing to limit the hours of rural post offices instead of closing them.

The change, announced last week, apparently would keep open four Tri-State-area post office branches that were considered last year for closure.

Two are in Washington County — Big Pool and Brownsville. The other two — Crystal Spring and Wells Tannery — are in Fulton County, Pa.

Under the new plan, the Crystal Spring and Wells Tannery post offices would be open four hours a day instead of eight, according to a list of affected branches.

The Brownsville branch hours would be cut more severely, from eight to two hours a day.

The list shows the daily hours at the Big Pool branch remaining at four. There was no explanation of why that branch’s hours would stay the same.

Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, did not return two phone messages seeking comment on Friday.

The postmasters of the Big Pool, Brownsville, Crystal Spring and Wells Tannery post office branches also couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.

The Postal Service, which does not receive tax money, has struggled for years to fill large financial gaps. It has cut staff and costs, but still is looking for other solutions.

Last July, the Postal Service said it was considering closing 3,653 of its 31,871 local offices, branches and stations.

Many of those would be replaced by what would be called Village Post Offices, in which postal services would be offered in local stores, libraries or government offices, The Associated Press reported at the time.

The plan ran into resistance in many communities where people said their local post office was essential.

The Postal Service announced the new plan, of limiting hours at rural post office branches instead of closing them, on Wednesday.

The new plan would be phased in over two years. Once it was completed in September 2014, the Postal Service could save about $500 million a year, a news release said.

The public will have a chance to comment through community meetings and surveys.

Maryland’s U.S. senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, issued a news release on Wednesday saying they considered the newest proposal, which saves 137 rural mail facilities in the state, “a major victory.”

“Taking post offices away from rural areas could have Draconian consequences,” Mikulski said in the release. “Small businesses need access to post offices to stay in business. Senior citizens need access to post offices to get their prescription drugs. Most farmers are small entrepreneurs.”

Cardin added: “Maintaining post offices in rural areas is particularly important to small businesses, farmers and a significant number of rural and elderly Americans who rely on their mail delivery for life-saving medications, important business documents and shipment of live animals.”

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia was more skeptical.

“On its face, this move looks like an improvement over the previous proposal to flat out close 150 post offices in West Virginia,” he said in a news release. “But I continue to be very concerned about the Postal Service’s constantly shifting plans and lack of information about how its proposals will impact jobs and services in our state. This new plan will potentially impact far more West Virginians and it fails to take into account the many other options for reducing costs besides cutting postal jobs and services in rural areas like West Virginia.”

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