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Rural post offices in county face reduced hours

Further information about hearings at the other affected post offices was not yet available, but Rizzo advised checking www.usps.com for updates.

BRATTLEBORO—For the past three months, the U.S. Postal Service has been holding public hearings around Vermont in advance of planned service cutbacks at 141 of the state’s 262 post offices.

Rural post offices in Windham County are bearing the brunt of the cutbacks, with 11 post offices targeted for reduced service hours.

The Grafton, Jamaica, Marlboro, and Williamsville post offices will reduce their weekday retail hours from eight to six hours.

At Westminster Station, Wardsboro, West Wardsboro, West Dummerston, West Halifax, and Whitingham, daily service hours will be cut from eight to four.

And the Cambridgeport post office, which was on a 2011 list of rural post offices that the USPS wanted to close, will have its retail hours reduced from six to just two hours daily.

According to Tom Rizzo, a spokesman for the USPS’ Northern New England District, none of the 141 post offices on the reduced service list have permanent, career full-time postmasters.

The USPS, which is not taxpayer-funded, had an operating deficit of $16 billion in 2012. The nationwide cuts to rural postal service are expected to yield savings of about $500 million.

Although a public outcry prevented the USPS from following through on a plan in 2011 to close thousands of rural post offices, it appears that the reduced service hours will soon take effect in Vermont and elsewhere around the country.

“That plan is dead,” said Rizzo. “This is the replacement for that plan.”

Rizzo said patrons of the affected post offices have received surveys asking them to choose among four options: reduce the hours of operation, close the local post office and switch to rural delivery, relocate post office boxes to another neighboring post office, or establish what the USPS calls a Village Post Office (VPO), a private contractor which would be open longer, but provide more limited services.

The Village Post Office idea is the option that the USPS strongly advocates. These would sell stamps, pre-paid priority mail flat rate shipping envelopes and boxes, and rent post office boxes.

“Eighty-five percent of the business that we do at brick-and-mortar locations involve those three things,” said Rizzo.

The USPS says it believes that by putting these services into established businesses and other places that customers already frequent, it can still maintain a presence in small towns.

As of last month, the USPS said about 100 VPOs have been opened around the country, including one in Vermont, located in the West Hartford Village Store.

The post office says more will be opened in any location lacking a post office, or where the existing post office has cut back its hours.

Areas affected by the plan, involving 11 post offices, are scheduled for hearings. Cambridgeport had its hearing in October. Jamaica had its on Jan. 9. Still to come are hearings in Williamsville (Jan. 17 at 4 p.m.), West Dummerston (Jan. 24 at 5 p.m.), and Whitingham (Jan. 29 at 4 p.m.), all which will take place at their respective post offices.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #186 (Wednesday, January 16, 2013).

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