Adjusting to change: USPS Post Plan affects Lake County communities
In October 2012, Finland residents started getting notices that their post office hours would be cut.
“Change is never easy and we understand that some customers have concerns,” said Pete Nowacki, the USPS’s regional spokesman. “But when we explain why there is an urgent need to realign window hours to better match community activity, customer mailing habits and postal resources, people understand.”
Jim Sinderman, a longtime Finland resident, said that most residents in the area have gotten used to the reduced hours, a compromise reached after customers protested USPS’s 2011 threat to close some rural post offices.
“Nobody liked to see it but that’s the way it goes,” Sinderman said. “Most people in town have adjusted pretty well.”
The office is open 8 a.m. - 12 p.m. on weekdays and 10-11 a.m. on Saturdays. The post office boxes are accessible in the lobby 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Located just 10 miles from Finland, the post office in Silver Bay is open full time, so Sinderman said that’s always an option if Finlanders miss their four-hour window.
Finland isn’t the only local post office to be affected by the Post Plan, which in total reduced the hours of 13,000 post offices. Last March, the Beaver Bay office was dropped to four retail hours per day and Tofte was converted to a six-hour office.
Knife River and Lutsen are also scheduled to lose their full-time status. According to Nowacki, Knife River is slated to become a four-hour office, Lutsen would become a six-hour operation. The USPS, however, must still conduct surveys and public meetings in those communities before any changes take place.
The post office in Schroeder will likely drop to four hours per day soon — a public meeting was held on Thursday and customers have already been surveyed. Despite the fewer open hours, no employees have been laid off.
“The Postal Service has reduced the number of career employees by more than 200,000 since 2006 without layoffs,” Nowacki said. “There have been no layoffs as a result of the Post Plan changes.”
In lieu of layoffs, the USPS has offered early retirements, cut some positions to part-time and redistributed employees, according to the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. The USPS has also consolidated its distribution centers and recently raised the price of first-class “forever” stamps from 46 to 49 cents to help improve its financial standing.
The USPS has lost money in 19 of the last 21 financial quarters, and officials say it’s largely because of a congressional mandate that forces the agency to prefund retiree health benefits. The USPS brings in around $65 billion per year; its 2013 expenses were at $72 billion, even after $1 billion in savings. It is required by Congress to contribute more than $5 billion annually to retiree benefits. Last year it defaulted on this obligation.
While the USPS is regulated by the U.S. government, it receives no tax dollars.
“Returning the Postal Service to solvency requires the comprehensive approach reflected in our five-year business plan, which will reduce the gap between revenues and expenses by $20 billion by 2017,” Nowacki said.
The five-year plan includes dropping mail delivery to five days per week, something Congress has prohibited until at least 2017. It also spells out a new healthcare benefits model.
“Much of the savings cannot be achieved without legislative action. We continue to work with both houses of Congress on comprehensive postal reform legislation,” Nowacki said.
On the North Shore, people are just happy their little towns still have post offices and that their postmasters have kept their jobs.
“They appreciate the fact that their (post offices) will remain open and a part of their communities,” Nowacki said