It’s been nearly a year and a half (December, 2011) since I wrote about the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to close about 3,500 small town post offices, including 76 in North Dakota, as a cost-cutting measure. So I thought I’d get hold of the nice man who has to answer for the Postal Service’s foibles here in the upper Midwest, Pete Nowacki, and find out how that was going.
Turns out, that plan was a miserable failure, Pete says. Well, he didn’t say it quite that way, but he said, “Much has happened since we last spoke. For the most part, the Post Offices that were under consideration for closure have remained open and will continue to do so. Last May, we announced a bit of a course change on this subject, called Post Plan.”
Well, I’m sure there were big sighs of relief all across North Dakota, and the rest of rural America. There will still be a Post Office in Antler, and Roseglen, and Amidon. Under the Post Plan, they just won’t be open as many hours. That’s good news for our small towns. And good news for the Postal Service. The reduction of hours will save them about half a billion dollars a year. Whether that changes the long-term outlook for the Postal Service is still open to question—there’s still talk of eliminating Saturday mail delivery.
But Pete told me today that most of the cost savings here, and across the country, comes from the reduction of wages paid to hourly employees in these small town post offices. That’s not a good deal for small town postmasters. They take the biggest hit under this program.
You’ll remember that we started this discussion because we were interested in who owned the buildings the post offices are located in. Because 76 North Dakota Post Offices were being looked at for possible closure, the people who owned those buildings were going to find themselves with an empty building, no tenant to pay rent. Well, there’s good news for the landlords. “We are honoring all our existing leases,” Pete told me. “I can’t tell you what will happen when the lease comes up for renewal.”
Pete told me that he is now in the process of evaluating 225 small town Post Offices, and when a series of informational meetings are completed in those towns, they will adjust the number of hours the window is open to 2, 4 or 6 hours a day.
“We began implementing this process in September of last year and plan to have this completed by Sept. 2014,” Pete said. “For a typical community, the process takes a minimum of three months. We begin by sending surveys to all PO Box and route customers to determine their needs and preferences. We then hold a brief community meeting to discuss the results of the survey and the changes we propose to make. Roughly a week or two after the community meeting we announce our final decision and give the community a minimum of a month lead time before the change goes into effect. Any change affects window hours only; access to PO Boxes and collection times remain the same.”
So far, Pete said, there have been meetings held in 135 of the 225 towns. It’s been a pretty low-profile process. The Post Office just sends a letter to every boxholder announcing a community meeting. No press releases, and not much media coverage. I saw a story in the Minot Daily News late last fall, I think it was. Nothing n my hometown paper though. Meetings will continue through the summer. Pete said the changes in window hours have been fairly well received. Officials are giving consideration to the local postmasters and customers as to which hours they would like to be open—in the morning or afternoon, for example.
The process is already over in some towns. New Salem, for example, has already been cut to six hours a day. Amidon to just two hours a day. I’m not sure which two hours those will be. I tried to call there a little after 1 p.m. Mountain Time today and got no answer. You can look at the list of the 225 towns and the proposed cuts here, to see if your town is on the list.
So, so far it’s good news for Post Office barons like Doctor Hamilton and Attorney Magdovitz, who we discussed in our last report on this, and their fellow landlords to the USPS. They’re still collecting their rent on the hundreds of little buildings they own, and there’s no immediate threat to their businesses. The buildings are still there, the lights and heat are still on, and the rent checks roll in. Their real estate investments look pretty good again. Which has them breathing a deep sigh of relief. I mean, who wants to buy a used Post Office?
Oh, and by the way: What ever happened to the plan to close the downtown Bismarck Post Office?