OLCOTT – A U.S. Postal Service consolidation plan, affecting 13,000 of the nation’s 32,000 post offices, is beginning to have an impact in Niagara County.
Four county postal locations – Appleton, Barker, Olcott and Model City – are on the list of facilities targeted for possible reduced hours or closure.
The Postal Service already has sent letters to customers of the Barker and Olcott post offices, offering them a say in what happens at their local mail location.
The letters include surveys with four options for the future of the post offices. The letters say that office hours will be reduced unless at least 60 percent of respondents vote for another option.
But Postal Service spokesman David Walton said those other options likely will lead to the closure of those post offices.
The choices in the survey are:
• Keeping the post office open with reduced hours.
• Expanding roadside mail delivery services.
• Opening a post office inside a local business.
• Closing the facility and moving post office box service to another existing post office.
The last three choices all include “conducting a discontinuance study.”
“That means they would close the office,” Walton said.
For the post offices in Olcott and Model City, which don’t offer roadside service now, a vote in favor of that increased convenience would be a death knell.
In Barker and Appleton, which have some motor routes, the impact on customers’ existing habits would be less, but to use other postal services such as mailing packages, residents would have to drive to another post office.
Facilities such as Newfane, Middleport and Gasport are a few miles away.
Walton said the plan is to hold a public meeting after residents have time to return the surveys. The survey results will be announced at the meeting, and Walton said that after public comment is considered, the Postal Service will make its decision on the office’s future a week later.
Any changes would take effect 30 days after that.
The first local meeting is in Barker, at 6 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Barker Central High School auditorium, 1628 Quaker Road.
The Olcott meeting is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 7 in the Olcott Fire Company Hall, 1691 Lockport-Olcott Road.
Model City’s meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 27 in the Lewiston Public Library, 305 S. Eighth St.
Appleton’s meeting isn’t scheduled yet.
Walton said the Postal Service, which projects a net loss of $14 billion this year, is being hurt by increasing use of electronic mail and bill-paying, along with a legal requirement that it prefund retirees’ health benefits.
“That’s what’s really killing us,” Walton said.
In a national survey conducted for the Postal Service in February, 54 percent of respondents preferred reductions in window hours at post offices to any of the other choices.
Offering postal services inside a local business was the second choice at 20 percent; closing the post office and moving box services to another office drew 15 percent support; and 11 percent voted for more home delivery services.
Joseph Bailey, an Olcott resident, said that cutting back window hours from eight to six hours per day, as the Postal Service’s letter proposes, is based on an incorrect assumption.
He said the Olcott post office isn’t open eight hours now.
A worker at the post office confirmed that the Olcott window hours are 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 to 5 p.m. weekdays, for a total of six hours, 15 minutes.
In Barker, the counter is open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Appleton is open for sales from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 5 p.m. In Model City, the desk operates from 9 a.m. to noon and 1:15 to 5 p.m.
The Postal Service regards all four offices as being open eight hours a day, however. Its plan calls for Appleton and Model City to be cut to four hours a day, with Olcott and Barker being trimmed to six hours.
Bailey said it would be a serious inconvenience if the Olcott post office is closed. “You’ve got quite a few older people who live here,” he said.
As for offering postal services in a store, which Walton referred to as a “village post office,” Bailey says that’s unrealistic for Olcott.
“There’s not one [store] here. We’ve got bars and restaurants. We can’t even buy a gallon of milk in this hamlet,” Bailey said.
The Postal Service is supposed to be self-supporting, but Congress controls whether post offices are to be closed or whether mail delivery is to be reduced from six days a week to five, as the Postal Service wants.
It proposed the small-town cutbacks in May, after a plan to close 3,700 post offices was dropped under congressional pressure.
The Postal Service also planned to close 252 mail processing centers, including one on William Street in Buffalo, but in May it announced that William Street will stay open for at least three more years.
“We got such a pushback when we tried to close 3,700 post offices, and we heard the people loud and clear. They didn’t want us to close their local post offices, so we are trying to reduce costs at our small, low-volume post offices,” Walton said.
“We have to become lean in order to survive. We have 32,000 post offices and 26,000 of them don’t bring in enough revenue to cover their expenses. I can’t think of any other business that would stay in business under those conditions.”