In a move to cut costs, the U.S. Postal Service is looking to reduce hours of operation at the Alexandria Post Office within a few weeks. Meanwhile, three carriers, who will continue to serve Alexandria postal customers, are to be reassigned to work out of the Watertown Post Office as of November 3.
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The postal service has scheduled a community meeting for Thursday, November 1 at 4:00 p.m. to discuss the proposals with the public at the Alexandria Post Office. "This whole plan is called the POST Plan," said David Walton, spokesman for the Tennessee District of the U.S. Postal Service in an interview with WJLE Thursday. "We're not looking to close this post office. We're looking to reduce the retail hours there within a month but we are going to be relocating the carriers on November 3. That is another cost savings. The post offices where we are holding community meetings first, those are post offices that have vacancies, meaning there is no current sitting postmaster there. Alexandria happens to be an office where we currently don't have a postmaster. That's why its one of the first to have a community meeting," said Walton.
The Alexandria Post Office is among 13,000 across the country targeted for cuts. "We are looking at about 13,000 rural post offices across the country," said Walton. "We are conducting community meetings over the next couple of years. This will go on through September 2014. Because the postal service gets no tax dollars, which a lot of people don't seem to realize, we have to do what we can to help our financial situation right now. Originally we had planned to close post offices but we got such a push back from communities. They did not want their post offices to close so we came up with a new strategy. It preserves our rural post offices but it also enables us to cut costs by reducing the number of hours of operation at those locations," he said.
Alexandria postal customers began receiving surveys in September outlining four different options for the Alexandria Post Office. Walton said the postal service wants input from the public before making a final decision. "Before we hold any community meetings, we send out a survey to customers two weeks prior. It gives them four choices on how they would like to proceed. We ask that customers fill out these surveys and send them back into us so that we can present the results of that survey at the community meeting. The survey that customers receive will give them four choices. One of the choices would be to keep the post office open but at reduced hours. Currently the Alexandria Post Office is open eight hours. We're looking to take that down to six hours of window service each weekday. Current Saturday window service hours and access to delivery receptacles would not change. Another option would be to discontinue service at that office altogether and provide customers with roadside mailbox delivery. A third option would be to close the office and have customers to get post office services from another nearby post office. The fourth option would be to close the post office and open a village post office, which is similar to a post office but its located within an existing business and would offer more of our popular products such as Forever stamps, pre-paid priority mail, post office boxes, and we would accept mail there as well. These are the four choices and whichever choice we get the most votes for that is the decision. That's how it will end up. If people want to keep their post office open but with reduced hours and at least sixty percent of the community members want that then that's the route we will go," said Walton.
"After the community meeting is held, one week later we will post the decision at the Alexandria post office facility and if it is to reduce the hours that would go into effect thirty days after that," said Walton. " The implementation at Alexandria would occur no sooner than January 12. Again, the reason we're having these community meetings is to get input from the people who use the post office. We're not just going to make these decisions. We want input from them because they are the ones that are our customers. They use the post office so we want them to have a say in it," he said.
"Another thing we're doing in Alexandria right now is something called Delivery Unit Optimization(DUO)," said Walton. "What that means is we will relocate our carriers to another office. There will be three employees who will move to Watertown. They will not be losing their jobs, they're just going to be working out of another location. Its more of a centralized hub. Our competitors, both Federal Express and UPS, they already have this concept in place. We're just following suit. It does really add up to a lot of cost savings. So say you had three or four offices and we took all those carriers out of those offices and relocated them in a centralized location, that saves us a considerable amount of money and fuel costs. So rather than our trucks having to go each individual office, they can just make one stop and then our carriers will deliver the mail the rest of the way. I know it worries people when we do a DUO because they think their post office is going to close but that's not the case. Again, I have to reiterate, the postal service doesn't get any tax dollars so its important that we watch our costs just like any other business or organization," said Walton.
In May, the postal service announced that daily retail hours of the Alexandria, Liberty, and Dowelltown Post Offices would eventually be reduced. The Smithville Post Office was not among those listed for reduced hours. No specific plans have yet been released for the Liberty and Dowelltown locations.