Donegal, Norvelt post offices may face service-hour cuts
Sarah Harkcom said her desire to keep the Donegal Post Office up and running is, in part, about preserving a slice of her family's history.
Harkcom's late, great-grandmother, Sarah K. Hays, was once postmistress at the small, brick facility perched along Main Street in the borough, as was her late aunt, Vera Reddon.
In addition, Harkcom's late mother, Hilda Snyder, served as postmistress there from March 31, 1951 to May 20, 1977.
“That office has been a big part of my family's life,” said Harkcom, president of Donegal Borough Council.
It's one reason why Harkcom said she is concerned that weekday window service hours at the borough office might be reduced from eight to four hours pending analysis of a survey recently conducted by the U.S. Postal Service.
She is also worried that such a reduction in service there could affect the office's business and marketing value to the Laurel Highlands, she said.
“We need a full-service post office here in Donegal,” Harkcom said. “A lot of area businesses have post office boxes here, so there is that Donegal recognition.
“We've marketed this area as Donegal — Gateway to the Laurel Highlands. You can go anyplace in the Laurel Highlands from our (PA) turnpike exit here.”
That means many more people than just local customers make use of the office to purchase stamps and conduct other transactions before traveling elsewhere, Harkcom said.
“A lot of people from Ligonier stop and do business at Donegal Post Office on their ways to work in Pittsburgh,” she said. “If the hours at the post office are reduced or, if the office closes, those businesses which have their post office boxes will have to move them to the (post) office in Acme.”
Survey prods change
Donegal-area recipients of the survey were asked to choose between reduction of hours at the office, delivery service through a rural carrier, switching to a village post office located at a local business with longer hours or transferring services to another post office.
The results will be revealed and discussed by Postal Service officials at a public meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 28 at Donegal Community Center at 113 Community Center Lane.
A similar meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15 in Norvelt, according to Tammy Gregg, the officer-in-charge of the Norvelt Post Office, where it appears window service may drop from eight hours a day to six, Gregg said.
Tad Kelley, postal service spokesman, said the service announced in 2011 that it would study numerous small post offices across the nation for possible closure.
The study was prompted by mounting financial losses and the lack of Congressional legislation to change the service's business model to better conform with shifting demand due, in part, to evolving technology, Kelley said.
“Community meetings were held throughout the year and strong concerns against closing offices were heard from our customer, legislative and stakeholder communities,” Kelley said.
This spring, the postal service announced a new strategy — the Post Office Structure Plan or POST plan — to keep smaller post offices such as the one in Donegal open, but with “modified window hours.”
“This plan can effectively keep 13,000 small offices open with modified hours,” Kelley said.
Out of those 13,000 post offices targeted for such restructuring by the U.S. Postal Service, 859 are in Pennsylvania.
Westmoreland and Fayette counties could each have more than 36 post offices affected by the proposed cutbacks.
The savings, nationally, from implementing the POST Plan by 2014 would amount to $500 million, Kelley said.
In addition, Saturday office hours at affected post offices would remain intact, as would customer access to post office boxes, he said.
“We look at each office's work hours, in terms of workload, and calculate the time needed to put that mail up so, if there is a problem, we will address it, but we do not anticipate one,” Kelley said.
Leaders back office as is
State Rep. Michael Reese, R-59th — Mt. Pleasant Township — along with two areatourism marketing professionals, have also expressed to the Postal Service their support for keeping the Donegal Borough Post Office open as is.
Reese wrote to Linda Cafaro, the POST Plan coordinator at the U.S. Postal Service — Pittsburgh, to stress the office's proximity to the turnpike and its potential for attracting out-of-town customers.
“The Donegal area is a highly traveled corridor for tourism-based businesses including ski and golf resorts, historic landmarks and state parks,” Reese wrote. “I am hoping the USPS will reconsider this action and allow the Donegal post office to continue to operate for the traditional 8 hours per day.”
Kris Enberg, executive director of the Mountain Laurel Chamber of Commerce in Donegal Township, wrote Cafaro to explain that any change to the office's current operations would result in three scenarios.
“It would be a hardship to residents, devastating to the business community, and confusing to the millions of visitors who exit the turnpike in Donegal and travel throughout the Laurel Highlands,” she wrote.
Kelley said the data used to pinpoint post offices such as the one in Donegal for restructuring was based on those with “the least amount of retail business and lowest earned workload.”
Ron Virag, executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, wrote Cafaro to contend that the importance of maintaining the office as a full-service facility to both current and future growth and economic development throughout the entire Laurel Highlands must outweigh such profitability analyses.
“Without a full-service postal facility in Donegal, our ability to retain and attract business and industry there will be substantially handicapped,” Virag wrote.
Mary Pickels, a staff writer for Trib Total Media, contributed to this report.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.