Flinton office reducing hours

FLINTON – Daily post office hours are set to be reduced by half for customers here in this rural community.

The same story is unfolding at rural post offices all over central Pennsylvania and across the nation as the U.S. Postal Service grapples with financial losses of billions of dollars annually.

“The ones that don’t earn the revenue are making adjustments,” said Joe Scherder, post office operations manager for rural offices in the region.

Scherder urged customers to continue to use the Flinton office if they want to keep it open. The office will be re-examined for further changes some time after the reduced hours take effect in January.

Scherder led an informational meeting at the Glendale Valley Municipal Authority building on Monday, and he has conducted many other meetings at small communities with zip codes beginning with 166 and 168, which have lost movie theaters, grocery stores and gas stations. In some of these places, the post office is all they have left, he said.

The Flinton office generates about $55,000 annually. That’s not enough to pay a full-time postmaster. But the small group of about 10 customers attending the meeting were glad to know the office was not closing.

According to the Postal Service, the Flinton office earns enough to be open four hours per day. Beginning Jan. 9, the office will drop from eight-hour days of operation to a 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. schedule Monday through Friday. Saturday hours are set to continue at 8 a.m to 10:30 a.m.

The adjustment was based on input from survey results of 169 in the area, about a third of the office’s customers.

Other options the survey listed included closing the post office and transferring its services to a local grocery store.

“It would be like being back in the 1800s – people having to go to the general store to get their mail,” said Flinton resident Thurman Keifer.

Keifer and his wife, Carol, live in Glendale Yearound, a gated community. He’s a disabled inner city bus driver whose wife loves to shop from catalogues. So, he’s at the Flinton post office every few weeks to pick up her packages. The postal workers there help him load the packages into his truck, he said.

“We have fantastic postal workers. I would hate to see them lose their jobs,” he said.

Nancy Thompson has been the postmaster in the Flinton office for 27 years. Her future is uncertain, but it’s not likely she’ll continue serving customers at the Flinton office.

“It’s an adjustment. We have great customers, and I appreciate their support,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s part-time postmaster relief, Pam Marshall, will likely continue her duties when the office’s hours are reduced.

Scherder said he is confident that the full-time workers pushed out can be placed in other Postal Service jobs.

“I’m hopeful I can place everyone who wants a job will have a job,” he said.

The U.S. Postal Service ended fiscal year 2013 with a net loss of $5 billion and liabilities of $61 billion, which exceeded assets by approximately $40 billion.

Western Pennsylvania District spokesman Tad Kelley echoed the dire situation of the Postal

Service’s finances.

“We need to capture savings. (Our budgets) continue to be in the red. We’ve waited for legislative reform to change our business model, but that has not come,” Kelley said.

The Postal Service is not asking Congress to have its funding boosted with a taxpayer bailout, Kelley said. The Postal Service is hoping for relief from government mandates, in particular, the mandate to prepay health care benefits for future retirees to the tune of $5.5 billion each September. The post office has not been able to make that payment for the past two years, Kelley said.

He said current retiree health care is fully funded.

The Postal Service needs to save $20 billion each year over the next five years, he said.

The changes set for Flinton are set for many of the 31,000 post offices across the nation.

“They don’t bring in traffic the way they used to,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the Postal Service is funded entirely by stamp sales and commercial postage. The Postal Service’s financial problems stem from electronic diversion of mail and a bad economy.

“We’ve seen a drastic reduction of first-class mail,” Kelley said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.