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Rural post offices in Southwestern Pennsylvania deal with plan to reduce hours

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

In the region's tiny rural communities, the post office isn't just a place to buy stamps and mail packages.

It's where neighbors mingle to share the latest news.

But throughout Westmoreland and Fayette counties, the biggest news at many post offices is that shorter business hours may be in the offing.

In Donegal Borough, council President Sarah Harkcom received a letter asking for her input on a proposal to reduce window service at the post office from eight to four hours a day.

“We need a full-service post office here in Donegal,” she said. “A lot of area businesses have post office boxes here, so there is that Donegal recognition. If the hours at the post office are reduced or, if the office closes, those businesses will have to move their post office boxes to the office in Acme.”

Out of 13,000 post offices targeted for 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 proposed cutbacks.

“People are upset. They just don't want the hours reduced,” said Jody Marso, officer in charge at the Donegal post office.

Marso said her office, near the Donegal turnpike interchange, gets more than local traffic.

“We get people that look us up as they are traveling. They get off the exit, look for us and get back on the turnpike,” she said.

Customers were asked to return a survey to the Postal Service by Nov. 14.

They were asked to choose a reduction of hours, 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.

A public meeting will be held at some point in the future to discuss the issue and reveal results of the survey. Input about the most convenient times for the post office to be open will be solicited.

Tad Kelly, postal service spokesman, said the service announced in 2011 that it would study numerous small post offices across the nation for possible closure.

It changed course this spring, with a new strategy — the Post Office Structure Plan or POST plan — to keep smaller post offices open, but with “modified window hours.”

At some post offices, window hours could be whittled to two hours a day Monday through Friday, postal officials said.

Kelly said total savings are projected to exceed $500 million annually, once fully implemented by 2014.

Officer-in-charge Tammy Gregg of the Norvelt Post Office said a community meeting there is scheduled for Feb. 15.

It appears that the post office may drop from eight hours of window service a day to six, Gregg said.

Friday morning, six customers visited the Dunbar Post Office in about as many minutes.

Officer-in-charge Marla Martray said customers have not yet received letters about a proposed reduction in hours, but she anticipates a community meeting will be held in February.

She, too, anticipates a potential drop from eight hours of window service to six.

“None of them (customers) want the hours to drop. They are glad that at least it is not going to close,” Martray said.

“This post office is a busy post office for where we are,” said customer Cheryl Clements. “It would be very inconvenient to go to Connellsville or Uniontown. I mail packages on an almost daily basis.”

“I have one regular customer who comes in at 4:27 p.m. (Shorter hours) would be hard for her,” Martray said.

At the Republic Post Office, Officer-in-charge Mary Kay Wright said about 30 customers and some local postmasters and clerks attended that community's meeting last week.

It is proposed that window service — now 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-4:30 p.m. — be reduced slightly, with a schedule of 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-4 p.m.

“Their concerns are legitimate,” Wright said.

A.J. Panian contributed to this story. Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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