HARPSTER — Plans to close the Harpster Poster Office are on hold — for now.
“I’m tickled,” Mayor John Schaadt said. “We are very pleased to hear it. We’ve heard everything from it may close in June to it may be open for another year or beyond. All we know is it is going to be open for a while, so that tickles us. Hopefully, it’s permanent.”
The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday a new plan that could save small post offices across the country, including in Harpster. The plan would keep the existing post office in place, but with modified retail window hours to match customer use. Access to the retail lobby and to PO Boxes would remain unchanged, and the town’s ZIP Code and community identity would be retained.
“Meeting the needs of postal customers is, and will always be, a top priority,” Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe said in a written statement. “We continue to balance that by better aligning service options with customer demand and reducing the cost to serve. With that said, we’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear — they want to keep their post office open. We believe this will serve our customers’ needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the postal service return to long-term financial stability.”
Residents previously had been told the post office would close next week, but Harpster Post Office employee Brigette Tharpe said that is “just a rumor.”
“All I know is I’m scheduled to work next week,” Tharpe said.
Despite plans to change hours at other post offices, Harpster Post Office hours will remain the same — 8:30-11:30 a.m. and 12:30-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8-11 a.m. Saturday.
“We have not heard of any changes,” Tharpe said.
No one knows what the future holds for the Harpster Post Office, but residents are happy with latest news.
“I’m pleased with the news even though it may be just a temporary thing,” said Harpster resident Fred Reid, who publicly had spoken out against the post office closing. “… I think Harpster would have lost its identity if the post office were to close. Many of the businesses depend on that post office and in my opinion, it’s one of the more prominent post offices in this whole area.”
USPS says the new strategy would be implemented over a two-year, multi-phased approach and would not be completed until September 2014. Once implementation is complete, the Postal Service estimates savings of a half-billion dollars annually.
“The Postal Service is committed to serving America’s communities and providing a responsible and fair approach for our employees and customers,” Postal Service Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan said. “The post offices in rural America will remain open unless a community has a strong preference for one of the other options. We will not close any of these rural post offices without having provided a viable solution.”
The Postal Service will provide an opportunity for the Postal Regulatory Commission to review this plan prior to making any changes. The Postal Service intends to file a request for an advisory opinion on the plan with the PRC later this month. Community meetings then would be conducted to review options in greater detail. Communities will be notified by mail of the date, time and location of these meetings.
According to a news release from the U.S. Postal Service, this new option complements existing alternatives, which include providing mail delivery service to residents and businesses in the affected community by either rural carrier or highway contract route; contracting with a local business to create a village post office and offering service from a nearby post office.
Survey research conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation in February, showed 54 percent of rural customers would prefer the new solution to maintain a local post office. Forty-six percent prefer one of the previously announced solutions, with 20 percent preferring a village post office, 15 percent indicating they prefer services at a nearby post office and 11 percent prefer expanded rural delivery. This strategy would enable a town to possibly have a post office with modified hours, as well as a village post office.
The Postal Service has implemented a voluntary moratorium on all postal facility closings through Tuesday. No closings or changes to post office operations will occur until after that time.
By CHANDA NEELY