By Tim Sohn
News Eagle Correspondent
The Shohola Post Office’s weekday window hours will be reduced from eight to six in 30 to 45 days as part of a nationwide plan by the United States Postal Service to cut costs, according to Dan Rice, manager of post office operations for the central Pennsylvania district. A survey was mailed to township residents about a month ago, and Rice provided survey results and took questions from area residents at a meeting Jan. 24 at the township building.
The survey, which is part of the USPS Post Plan and calls for reducing window hours at post offices and retirement incentives for management and craft employees, asked residents to choose which option they prefer: post office hours to be cut from eight to six on weekdays; a discontinuance study conducted for the office and roadside mailbox delivery; a discontinuance study for the office and find a local business to offer U.S. Postal Service stamps and flat-rate products; or a discontinuance study for the office and use PO boxes in nearby towns. The survey also asked residents which hours they would like to see the post office open, if hours are reduced from eight to six.
Rice provided the results of the survey at the meeting: 371 (87 percent) favored cutting weekday window hours from eight to six; 20 (5 percent) favored having delivery rather than going to the post office; 8 (2 percent) favored having a local business running window, retail, and box service; 11 (3 percent) favored the nearby post office option; and 16 (4 percent) made no selection.
He said that all feedback is recorded at the meeting and provided to USPS headquarters, and a final analysis for the Shohola Post Office will be posted there in approximately 14 days.
New weekday window hours for the post office in Shohola, beginning in 30 to 45 days, will be Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it will close from 12 to 1:30 p.m. For lunch. Saturday window hours will remain 8:30 to 11 a.m., and lobby hours, which provide access to PO boxes, will stay the same, and a time lock system will be placed on the door.
Currently, there are six processing facilities in central Pennsylvania, and that will be reduced to two said Rice, due to a reduction in mail, predominantly because of the Internet.
Shohola mail carriers will pick up and sort their mail load in Milford, when the implementation begins.
Currently, Shohola has one clerk, and that will not change, according to Rice.
"We are looking at another clerk for the office as a backup to that. The six-hour offices are still career postal employees, where the two- and four-hour offices are non-career postal employees," he said. "It will be a postmaster leave replacement position as opposed to a career postmaster. This will still be a career postmaster at some point when it’s posted … and Bernadette [the current clerk] would have an opportunity to apply as well at that point."
After the new hours are implemented, the plan for each post office will be re-evaluated annually, according to Rice.
Rice said that USPS partners with competitive package and delivery services such as UPS and FedEx. A man in the audience asked that if he uses Internet services, will the Shohola post office get credit?
Rice explained that the credit will go to the post office that he punches in the zip code for.
Supervisor Keith Raser asked what processing center Shohola mail will come out of – it’s currently Scranton. Rice responded it will come from Lehigh, "it shouldn’t" delay mail delivery, and Lehigh is already processing about 50 percent of the mail during this transition period. The only two processing facilities in central Pennsylvania will be Harrisburg and Lehigh.
Could happen again
Supervisors Chairman George Fluhr Jr. asked if this will be a five-year plan or, "are we going to get something in the mail next year saying, ‘well, we have to change everything again?’"
Rice said it is a possibility, that he has seen nine changes in his 33 years with the post office.
"This is a different landscape, a changed environment, because the postal service is a large organization. What’s happening is basically the footprint will be much smaller for the organization, so it’s going to streamline and get a little leaner," said Rice, adding that 325 clerks in his district have accepted retirement incentives, including three in Milford, and 80 percent of the post office’s cost is labor. New employees will also be hired at a lower pay rate.
A woman asked if revenues from the post office go to any other areas of government. Rice said it only goes to the post office, and no other government agency.
She also asked if mail delivery time will change. Rice said mail will be delivered overnight if it’s in the same district as it is now, and delivery time outside of the area is still the same for now.
A man in the audience asked if the post office is looking at other sources of revenue, such as drop-off points for using private parcel delivery services for a fee.
"Like I said, we do partner with the competitors. We do deliver a lot of UPS and FedEx parcels that by the percentage we get revenue a piece," Rice said, adding that the post office used to have FedEx boxes outside. "Part of that we are doing yes, but we also share and receive, and there is a cost to us, because some of our mail and packages and services get the lift that FedEx and UPS provides with the aircraft because predominantly we’re commercial. They have their own planes, so we buy some of that lift."
Several Shohola business owners also expressed concerns about the new window hours, and Rice reiterated that the post offices will be re-evaluated annually, and if business goes up, it is possible the number of hours could be returned to eight.
When asked if the pay or benefits of the current clerk will change, Rice said no, because she is a career employee. "Obviously, that will be re-evaluated, and the position itself, for the six hours a day, that’s just retail. The clerk will have to start 15-20 minutes on either side of that. So, there is a little bit of labor time based on that," Rice said.
So, where exactly will the postal service be saving money?
"Time-wise, the cost overall, fixed cost. We have carriers in there that will probably be administered from another office. Right now, there are rural carriers. The routes are not going to change. Where they may come from or the building they are going to work out of may change. You will see the same carrier, they just may not come from the Shohola Post Office, it may come from an administrative post office. It may not sound like a lot, but the reduction in the wage number one, and the time frame – like I said, labor takes up 80 percent of our cost to begin with," Rice said.