KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
POWNAL -- A couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon is likely when customers of the North Pownal Post Office will be able to pick up mail during the week, according to information released Tuesday by the Postal Service at a public meeting attended by a dozen or so people.
According to Jerry Reen, post office operations for the U.S. Postal Service, the likely window hours for the North Pownal office will be Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. then 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. That's reduction from the current window hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. however the Saturday hours of 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. will not change.
Reen said these are the likely hours, but the decision has not been made yet and the Postal Service will notify North Pownal customers of when it occurs.
The Postal Service has been proposing to reducing the hours of rural post offices across the county. Surveys have been sent out to customers asking their preferences on the different ways the Postal Service has come up with to address low traffic volumes in its rural offices. In addition to the surveys public meetings have been held at the offices themselves to get community input as well as dispense information.
According to a handout made available at the meeting 206 surveys were mailed to North Pownal customers and 68 were returned. The survey asked which option of three people preferred, those being reducing the post office's hours, contracting with a private delivery service, using a business as a "village post office," or using a nearby, existing post office.
Most, 87 percent, opted for the reduction in hours. The private delivery and post office consolidation had 4 percent each and the remaining 7 percent selected no option.
In past interview, Tom Rizzo, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said most surveys across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have people opting for the reduction in hours as they wish to keep their local post office open.
Reen said he knows of no post offices in Vermont that will be closed.
"Right now it's open when I can get to it, and I don't want that to change," said Eric Chenaille, who works in the Albany, N.Y. area and picks up his mail in the morning. Chenaille said he fears the reduction in hours will lay the groundwork for closing the office, as once the clerk who staffs it currently, Stephanie Fuhlbrigge, moves on it would be difficult to find a new person.
Fuhlbrigge said she has no intention of leaving her position anytime soon and Reen added that closing the office is not the service's mission.
"It might not be the mission but it might be the endgame," said Chenaille, who added that he might have to pick up his week's mail on Saturdays.
"I'm just glad they're not closing this place, that's the bottom line," said Robert Gomez, who attended the meeting.
With the Internet replacing letters and online bill paying becoming more prevalent, the U.S. Postal Service has faced serious financial woes in recent years. On Jan. 27 the price of a forever stamp is expected to rise a penny to 46 cents. Fuhlbrigge said a few years ago she would have a stack of mail 70 inches thick to sort on a given day whereas now a busy mail day is equal to roughly half that. It goes up on holidays but there are long slow periods in the year.
Reen said the Postal Service has not done well as a money-making operation and was not intended to be one when it was first created.
"If you want to make money, you gotta be open," said Chenaille.
According to Reen, the North Pownal meeting was the last one in Bennington County aside from Rupert. Late last year the East Arlington Post Office held a similar meeting over reductions in hours.