An interested group of Cowley residents Tuesday night questioned a U.S. Postal Service proposal to reduce hours at the Cowley Post Office as part of a nationwide effort to prevent post office closures by reducing hours.
“Last year because the Postal Service was losing $3 billion a year, so the decision was made to close 10,000 post offices nationwide, 46 in Wyoming,” said Wyoming Manager of Post Office Operations Gary Sims at Tuesday’s meeting. “I got to stand up at a meeting in Byron in a room full of people who looked at me like they hoped I’d catch on fire and blow up.”
But then the USPS reversed course and decided that rather than closing post offices the Postal Service would “match work hours with the work load,” Sims said, and now some 20,000 post offices will see reduced hours, including 12 in Park and Big Horn counties. Tuesday’s meeting was the third community meeting to discuss the reduced hours.
Sims explained that the number of hours a given post office will remain open is dependent solely on revenue. Post offices with career postmasters at the helm won’t have to reduce hours until September of 2014, but because Cowley is currently operating with an officer in charge, the reduction will come sooner.
Cowley, based on the “amount of money coming across the counter,” Sims said, will be open six hours a day on weekdays, and the initial proposal is to have hours of 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. The hours will be evaluated every year, Sims said, and if revenue increases the hours of service will increase correspondingly.
The post office is currently open from 8 a.m. to noon and from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. – eight hours a day – on weekdays.
Sims said the main purpose of Tuesday’s meeting at the Cowley Town Hall was to “decide which six hours” the post office will remain open, noting that the vast majority of respondents to a recent survey – 156 of 160 returned – preferred “realignment of hours” over the village post office concept or reducing service to home delivery in lieu of a post office.
Those attending the meeting said they far preferred having the post office open later in the day rather than opening at 9 a.m. Willie Bridges of Pryor Mountain Engineering, for instance, said it would be far better for his business to have the counter open at 10 a.m. and not close until 4:30 p.m.
Others agreed, noting that due to new transportation routes the mail isn’t in boxes until after 9 a.m. anyway. Asked for a show of hands, most people in the room “voted” to have the counter remain open later, although postal officials explained that due to transportation times there wouldn’t be an option to keep the post office open even later, such as 5:30 p.m.
Peggy Rasmussen shook her head at reducing hours in general.
“If you open at 9, a lot of people are at work, and if you close at 3:30, they aren’t home yet,” she said. “You’re catering to the unemployed.”
Asked about the difficulty getting important packages which can include needed medicine, post office officials noted that parcel lockers that can be accessed 24 hours per day via a key left on a customer’s post office box have been installed in Cowley.
Revenue the key
Sims said that one way to increase hours in the future would be for more revenue to flow through the post office, noting that the use of postage meters does not help the local post office.
“I guess we need to get rid of our meters,” said Cowley mayor and Office Shop co-owner Joel Peterson, noting that the business could purchase more postage locally. “We can do that tomorrow,” he added.
“I would say the sooner the better,” Sims agreed, noting that it takes about $5 in revenue to add one minute of opening time.
Local schools could also look at how they purchase postage, Sims said, although he noted that for large operations a postage meter is easier to use.
Sims said “click and ship” Internet postage programs don’t help the local post office, either, even though the package is dropped off at the local office, with the key being revenue “coming across that counter.” But he said “stamps by mail” where postage is purchased and left in a customer’s post office box does count as revenue for the local office.
Peterson said he disagreed with the USPS merely looking at past history rather than using population projections to help make the decision. Cowley has grown from 655 people in the 2010 census to an estimated 750 people less than three years later, he said.
Making the operating hours decision without considering recent growth and future projections is “not a very good business plan,” he said.
Some residents questioned the recent closure of the mail distribution center in Worland, with the closest facility now being in Casper, but Sims said the modern sorting equipment is so fast and efficient by placing mail in delivery sequence order that it makes sense to send even a local letter to a central facility for processing. Sorting machines can process 33,000 pieces of mail per hour, he said.
Sims also noted that a move that “is going to happen” to end Saturday carrier delivery nationwide won’t alter Saturday counter hours at local post offices like Cowley.
Asked if closing rural routes would save money, Sims replied, “I don’t even think we would try that. We would have a riot on our hands.”
Sims said he would work with current Cowley acting postmaster Jan Mollenbrink to finalize the decisions for Cowley, which could be implemented by this spring.
Sims emphasized that the reduction in hours is not “set in stone” if revenue increases at the post office over the next several months.
By David Peck