Post office hours being reduced in rural communities

ADDISON COUNTY — As U.S. Postal Service officials implement a plan to wring costs out of rural post offices, some local residents have a last opportunity to affect how service will be cut in their towns.
USPS officials will host meetings in Monkton, Orwell, Shoreham, Hancock and Forestdale in coming weeks that will allow residents to give input on four options for cutting costs at their respective post offices — three of which include shutting the facilities down.
In the summer of 2011, USPS said it would consider closing 3,700 rural post offices due to the decline in the volume of mail, changing customer behavior and the agency’s “financial challenges.” In May of last year, the plan changed to simply cutting back hours. It would affect 141 of the 262 post offices in Vermont.
Since October, Postal Service officials have been surveying customers in sparsely populated towns throughout the county and holding meetings at each to get feedback. Residents in Bridport and Ferrisburgh got their chance to make a case for their local post offices on Wednesday evening after the deadline for this edition of the Independent.
The public is invited to the Monkton Post Office on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 5 p.m. to give their thoughts to postal authorities. Other upcoming meetings are at the post offices in Shoreham on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 4 p.m.; Orwell on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 5 p.m.; Hancock on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 4 p.m.; and Forestdale on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 4 p.m.
“We’ll ask for input on which hours on what days will be best for them,” said USPS spokesman Tom Rizzo.
Shoreham, like most, will have an option of simply seeing staffing cut from eight hours a day to six. Other options are to discontinue service entirely and move service into a local business or to a post office at another town.
Public meetings were held at three other Addison County post offices in late 2012 — Whiting, North Ferrisburgh and Starksboro — and all will see a cut in hours.
Starksboro Selectwoman Susan Jefferies said she has been surprised that there has not been more discussion about the reduced hours coming to the Starksboro Post Office. It may be because the new hours won’t go into affect until Feb. 9.
Lena Estabrook, the USPS officer in charge in Starksboro, said the new hours will reflect the busiest times: 7:30-11:30 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m. on weekdays (Saturday hours will be unchanged at 7:30-11:30 a.m.). That will mean Estabrook, a Hinesburg resident, will have to find something to do or go home during the three-hour lunch break. It also means that she, like the office staff at the other rural offices, will take home less pay.
Estabrook is not thrilled about the change, but she’s prepared for it.
“My husband and I have talked about it, and we’ll be OK (with the smaller paychecks),” she said.
Jefferies is glad that officials didn’t close the office entirely. Not only do commuters coming through Starksboro on Route 116 use the post office, but having a post office is one of the three critical elements that keep rural villages vital, she said.
“Preservation Vermont said that if you want to be a viable town you need to have a post office, a school and a general store. We still have the first two and we’re working on the last one,” Jefferies said. “I think keeping (the post office) open was really important.”

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