Twenty-six rural West River communities will not lose their post offices as once feared, but could see a cut in daily hours, the U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday.
Other post offices never in danger of closing could have daily hours slashed as well under a new plan.
Outcries by South Dakota’s rural communities, some with double-digit or slightly higher populations, helped convince Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to back off his plan to close 3,700 low-revenue post offices across the country, despite mounting annual losses by the agency. The Postal Service has said it expects to lose $14 billion this year.
The post offices will survive but may face reduced hours, and some could see layoffs. The Postal Service is proposing cutting the Caputa Post Office from six hours per day to four.
“People will be relieved to know they are going to keep our little office open,” said Rhonda White, manager at the Caputa Post Office, just 14 miles southeast of downtown Rapid City. “If I do have to change my hours the customers will adjust.”
Some post offices never slated for closing, such as New Underwood or Nemo, could have hours slashed. Under the new proposal, New Underwood would go from being open eight hours a day to six, while Nemo hours would be halved to four each day. No Rapid City post office would be affected.
Regional Postal Service spokesman Peter Nowacki said no changes in service will occur before September and the Postal Service will hold community meetings to discuss options. Nowacki said the Postal Service does not have dates set for those meetings. A first round of community meetings in towns chosen for possible closure drew strong negative reactions.
“We are recognizing the type of reaction we have gotten, and we are looking for more ways we can keep them open and still have them be sound operations as well,” Nowacki said.
Under the new plan, access to the retail lobby and to post office boxes would remain unchanged, and the town’s ZIP Code would be retained. The new strategy would not be completed until September 2014. A voluntary early retirement incentive for the nation’s more than 21,000 non-executive postmasters was also announced.
St. Onge residents were relieved its post office will stay open, though the proposal is to scale the hours back from eight to two hours each day. The local sale barn, where livestock is bought and sold, uses the post office extensively to process orders.
“We have several million dollars of sales that go in and out of the post office, so it’s a pretty vital part of the community,” said Justin Tupper, a livestock manager in St. Onge.
Tee Ridley, who also works at the sale barn, said that even though the post office is a somewhat outdated service, he is happy to have it.
“Until there’s a better system, I think we need to have it because it’s kind of a big deal to go to Spearfish or Belle Fourche, and it definitely provides a good service to the community,” Ridley said.
In Vale, north of Sturgis, the Postal Service wants to cut the hours from eight each day to four, but the post office will be saved.
“I think it’s wonderful that it’s not closing,” said Joyce Wulf, the clerk/treasurer of the Vale Sanitary Sewer and Water District, who regularly needs to ship the town’s water samples to Pierre within hours of being collected.
Colette Dunn was more than pleased by the post office announcement.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I really didn’t think they were doing the right thing by closing all the little post offices.”
She recalled the community meeting about possibly closing post office when a representative asked for local input.
“From the answers he gave,” she said, “it didn’t sound like we had a snowball’s chance.”
Reporters Aaron Orlowski of the Journal and Milo Dailey of the Butte County Post contributed to this story.