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Town and Village

Small post offices face service cuts

USPS seeks to reduce service hours of five more post offices in county as part of nationwide cost-cutting operation

The U.S. Postal Service is in the final stretch of its plans to reconfigure office hours at its smallest post offices around the nation, and five area post offices are slated to see cuts in service hours.

East Dover, Readsboro, West Halifax, Westminister Station, and West Wardsboro are all expected to see their daily office hours cut from eight hours a day to four.

According to USPS spokeswoman Melissa Lohnes, public meetings for those five post offices are scheduled for some time this summer.

Last year, post offices in Cambridgeport, Grafton, Jamaica, Marlboro, Wardsboro, West Dummerston, Williamsville, and Whitingham saw their operating hours reduced.

All this is done under what the USPS calls its POSTPlan, an initiative to reduce hours at 13,000 post offices around the United States. About 8,000 have had their hours cut back, with another 3,900 waiting for their public hearings to discuss the cutbacks.

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 a neighboring post office, or establish what the USPS calls a Village Post Office (VPO), a private contractor that would stay open longer but offer more limited services.

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

USPS claims the service cuts and reconfiguration is necessary in the wake of rising deficits. The postal service recorded a record loss of $354 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014, the 19th time in the last 21 quarters that it recorded a loss. Much of the losses can be attributed to a 2006 law that forced the postal service to fund a reserve for retirees’ health benefits 75 years into the future, something that no other private or governmental entity does.

Small, but busy

On the surface, the Westminster Station post office would seem like a prime candidate for a service cutback or closure. It’s about two miles from the Westminster post office and about three miles from the Bellows Falls post office.

But this little post office sits at the junction of Route 5 and Route 123, the road that connects Walpole and Westmoreland, N.H. with Westminster.

Yvonne Nadeau is the relief postmaster working on this particular Saturday morning, filling in for postmaster Bernie Lawrence, who has held the job for 43 years.

“Everyone thinks of this post office as ‘Bernie’s Place,’” she said. “He’s a real sweetheart.”

Nadeau said the location of the post office, and its status as the only area post office that has its service window open at 7 a.m., means Westminster Station sees plenty of activity every day.

“We get a lot of business from Walpole and Westmoreland,” she said. “It’s much more convenient for a lot of people.”

Nadeau, who lives in Westminster, used to work at the Cambridgeport post office, which saw its service hours cut from eight hours a day to two.

“It wasn’t worth driving out there for two hours a day,” she said. Now, she says she splits her time as a relief postmaster between Westminster Station and Grafton.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #251 (Wednesday, April 23, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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