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USPS officials visit Alberta

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Update: This story has been updated to reflect a clarification about "earned work hours" from USPS spokesman Pete Nowacki.

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MORRIS - Alberta residents expressed frustration and, it seemed, resignation over the potential closure of their post office at a community meeting with U.S. Postal Service (USPS) officials on Tuesday night.

Marty Brumbaugh, manager of post office operations, and Sue Trocke, postmaster of Holdingford, told residents that unless Congress takes action, USPS is just 30 days from insolvency.

"It's crunch time now," said Brumbaugh.

The Alberta Post Office found itself on the list of 3,700 post offices across the United States at risk of closing after the volume of work at the retail counter fell too low.

According to a study by USPS, the "earned work hours" for the Alberta Post Office are 1.6 hours per day, or about 90 minutes of work each day for Postmaster Marlene Van Horn.

USPS spokesman Pete Nowacki said earned work hours are based on factors like mail volume, the number of rented PO boxes at an office, other deliveries administered, the number of employees and more.

While mail volumes for specific post offices are not available, the income generated at the Alberta Post Office retail window was $12,370 in 2010.

That number only accounts for mail the Postmaster handles through her window. Local retailer Cargill's mail is not counted in this total because the company pay for postage through a postal meter in their office. Although their mail counts in the volume of mail from the office, it doesn't count as revenue and therefore doesn't impact the office's earned work hours.

The total cost to keep the Alberta Post Office open each year is more than $38,900: $29,300 for Van Horn's salary and benefits and $5,400 to lease space for the office. If the post office is closed, 40 post office boxholders will be added to the rural mail route that originates in the Morris Post Office, at a cost of $4,622 per year.

However, even with that added expense, Trocke said cutting the Alberta Post Office could save USPS over $34,000 per year.

"The fact is, we lost money every single day we are open for business here in Alberta," Trocke said in her prepared, opening remarks at the meeting. "That isn't the deciding factor in reviewing post offices - it isn't even the most important one - but it is a consideration. Mostly, we can't afford to keep an office open where we just don't have enough work for the Postmaster anymore.

The Alberta Post Office retail window is currently open 24 hours per week: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday - Friday and 12 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. However, the lobby is open to residents 24 hours a day and is the only place in the community with 24-hour access to a defibrillator.

Alberta Mayor Glen Tomoson summed up the residents' frustration during the discussion: "It's easier to cut the City of Alberta" then it is for USPS to make other system-wide cuts to areas like management and postal delivery.

"They've been at this a long time, and now they've ground us into the ground until they can cut us," Tomoson said.

Other residents seemed equally frustrated with the process.

"We're not telling you anything you don't already know," one attendee told Brumbaugh and Trocke.

This meeting is the first step in a regulated process for closing a post office. Closing the Alberta Post Office is also not official yet - there are a number of steps still in play.

After the public is notified of the proposal to close the office, there is a 60 day window for customer comments. Those comments will be reviewed by postal management. At the end of the 60 days, a decision about closing the office will be made and a public notice of the decision will be posted.

After the decision is posted, customers have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is required to make a decision within 120 days.

Even without an appeal, a Post Office cannot be closed sooner than 60 days after the public posing of the decision.

If the Post Office is closed, a business in the community will have the option of opening a Village Post Office (VPO). A VPO offers limited retail sales for stamps, Priority Flat Rate Boxes and Envelopes, an external collection box, and a collection of PO Boxes maintained by the business owner. A VPO is a like a privately owned retail center with a contract with USPS.

Alberta is not the only Post Office at risk in the area. The 14 sites in the 562 zip code area being reviewed for closing are Alberta, Clontarf, Correll, Danvers, Dumont, Hanley Falls, Holloway, Marietta, Norcross, Odessa, Porter, Sunburg, Wanda and Watson.

A complete list of Post Offices under review is available at

http://about.usps.com/news/electronic-press-kits/expandedaccess/statelist.htm.

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kukur

Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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