Kelton post office is target of plan to reduce hours
The Kelton post office, with its quirky 'air mail' mailbox on the post at the right, is the target of a U.S. Postal Service plan to possibly reduce its operating hours.
By John Chambless
The national storm over closures and reductions in the U.S. Postal Service reached the tiny Kelton post office on July 3.
As part of the POST Plan from the postal service, the office may have its hours reduced, from the current eight hours a day to six hours a day. The initiative is part of a nationwide effort to cut costs by reducing hours or closing small post offices across the nation.
In a letter mailed to residents, Michael Roberts, the coordinator of the POST Plan in Doylestown, explained that survey results would be analyzed by the post office, but "the Postal Service intends to maintain the Kelton post office with six hours of window service each weekday. Current Saturday window service hours and access to delivery receptacles will not change as a result of the POST Plan realignment of weekday window service hours."
Residents have a choice of keeping the office open with reduced hours or beginning a "discontinuance study" for the office and arranging alternate delivery options. There is a meeting slated at the Kelton post office on Aug. 7 at 3 p.m., when residents can meet with postal officials to find out more information. No decision on the Kelton site's fate will be made until after the public meeting.
The letter from Roberts points out that the post office is looking for area businesses who would like to open "contractor-operated postal retail units" where customers could buy stamps and flat-rate shipping products if the survey indicates a closure of the Kelton site is preferred.
Other county post offices that are being studied for a reduction in hours are in Cheyney, Immaculata, Lewisville, Mendenhall, Modena, Pomeroy, Sadsburyville and Wagontown.
The U.S. Postal Service website says the POST Plan is "designed to make sure America’s communities continue to have access to our products and services as we right-size our post office network to reflect the nation’s current use of our services."
The plan is one of several cost-cutting measures being taken by the postal service in the wake of a 2006 congressional decision that required the agency to pay for health care benefits for workers 75 years in advance. That put the agency more than $23.5 billion in debt.
In response, there is a growing, nationwide network of websites and advocacy groups that are seeking to preserve the postal service and fight the financial burden it is under. On a website called contributor.com, a writer maintains that, "The 2006 legislation has the hands of lobbyists from Fed-ex, UPS and Pitney Bowes all over it, as well as corporate funded conservative groups and think tanks like ALEC, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation."
Recently, the postal service has allowed Staples retail stores to act as post offices, leading to the American Postal Workers Union calling for a National Day of Action on April 24 to protest the outsourcing of postal jobs.
At a site called savethepostoffice.com, a May 22 posting noted the timeline extension of the POST Plan. Site creator Steve Hutkins wrote, "Initially, all 13,000 post offices included in the plan were to have their hours reduced by the end of September 2014, and any full-time postmasters still working at those offices would have lost their full-time jobs on October 1 as part of a Reduction in Force (RIF). According to a notice posted on the websites of NAPUS and the League of Postmasters, there are approximately 3,200 postmasters facing a RIF. Now these postmasters are getting a reprieve — at least for a few months. The new effective RIF date for impacted postmasters is now January 10, 2015."
Hutkins added, "At offices converting to six hours a day, postmasters still on the job in January 2015 will be demoted by RIF, but they can stay on, albeit at a significantly reduced salary ($12.30 to $18.18)."
Hutkins says on the site that he has no affiliation with the U.S. Postal Service. "Like millions of Americans, he just likes his local post office, and he doesn’t want to see post offices being closed," he writes.
That sentiment is echoed across the internet, with communities rising up to keep their small post offices open. No such movement has begun in Kelton, but longtime postmaster Barb Cogan said on July 11 that she's glad the office will stay open to serve the community. Some smaller offices similar to Kelton will have their operating hours slashed to two hours per day.
"I've been here for 22 years," Cogan said. "When I came here, this was a slow community," she added, laughing. "There wasn't Jenners Pond or Luther House or all the other businesses that have come since then. The growth in this area has been tremendous."
The Kelton office has 160 post office boxes, and Cogan said she knows pretty much everyone who comes in, as well as their children or grandchildren. She said that the Kelton site "is doing well financially" and she feels that success will continue after she retires on Sept. 30. A part-time employee will take her position for six hours per day on Jan. 9, 2015.
"I absolutely love this job," Cogan said, smiling. "I'm here more than I'm home, except to sleep. I'll definitely miss the people here."
The national movement to fight the closure of post offices has sparked the creation of "Gone Postal: A Documentary to Save the People’s Post Office," a film which launched a crowd-source funding campaign in late June. In the film, Jay Galione weaves the story of his father, a postal clerk of 30 years, with stories of postal workers nationwide "who are harassed, threatened, and fired for standing up for themselves and their fellow employees," according to the filmmaker's description. "As Jay and fellow filmmaker Sheila Dvorak gathered these stories, the very existence of the post office became threatened, and a fight to save the post office emerged."
In response, the Postal Service has launched its own effort to defend its actions. On the USPS.com website, visitors can find news updates, including a letter to a newspaper on April 4 from a Chicago post office district manager that addressed the Staples controversy. "The U.S. Postal Service has no plans to privatize," she wrote. "Our goal is to ensure the long-term viability of the Postal Service, and we believe making postal products and services available to customers where they live, work and shop will help us to realize that goal. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations."
In many cases, large buildings that once held post offices are being closed and sold.
In a a March 14 opinion piece headlined, "Our financial crisis gives us no choce in the sale of buildings," Tom Samra, the facilities vice president of the U.S. Postal Service, wrote, "the U.S. Postal Service is in a financial crisis that necessitates the passage of comprehensive postal reform legislation to return us to sound financial footing now and for the future. ... One initiative that has gained some attention is our efforts to sell some post office buildings with historical significance. ... Each facility’s size, location, cost and revenue, as well as the operations housed there, are taken into account. If the facility is too large for our needs and too costly to maintain, we need to sell it, even if it is an historic property.
"All our stakeholders can be assured that the Postal Service, the roots of which date back to 1775, respects and values the rich history of this nation, which is why we carry out effective preservation efforts in buildings we continue to own," Samra writes.
The Kelton post office has additional copies of the survey form that customers can fill out and return. Forms must be returned by July 24. Only one form per mailing address will be accepted. The post office can be reached at 610-869-8803.