Two small-town post offices initially set for closure are now off the chopping block.
The United States Postal Service announced Wednesday plans to change retail hours at thousands of rural post offices rather than close some, the plan which was announced in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure. Post offices in Verona and Kinsman are among the ones saved from closure, but still listed for reduced operating hours, according to Postal Service plans.
Beverly Howard, community relations coordinator for the Central Illinois district of the postal service, said citizen input played a big role in the reversal.
"The voices of the customers were heard very strongly about maintaining a postal presence in their community," she said. "With that, we've turned around and looked at how we can best meet the needs of the community."
Howard said after about 3,600 post offices were selected for further study for closure, Postal Service officials collected more information on the post offices and from citizens in community meetings.
"Once they were identified, we gathered a lot of internal information about the area, just looking to see what alternative retail services were available in the community," she said.
Postal Service leaders also approved a moratorium on post office closures, which will expire May 15.
Howard said during meetings held in communities, officials took note of citizen concerns and interest in seeking alternatives.
"A lot of customers were indicating some other options as opposed to actually closing the post offices," she said. She noted that about 54 percent of customers said they'd rather have reduced hours than closing or alternatives like transferring to a nearby post office, expanding rural delivery, or having a village post office at another area business.
With the idea of reducing hours on the table, Howard said Postal Service officials decided to look into the possibility of reducing hours at a larger number of smaller post offices. Looking at the internal classification of post office size, officials increased the number of affected post offices to about 17,700.
The Postal Service expects these changes could make a difference of about $500 million annually, Howard said.
Under the current proposal, the Verona post office could see its hours cut in half, from eight hours to four hours a day, while the Kinsman post office could see its hours cut from eight hours to two hours daily.
With an expanded number of post offices included, post offices in Braceville and South Wilmington are now also listed to have their hours cut in half, to four hours a day.
Verona resident Rich Knop said he's glad to hear of the change in plans.
"I'd say just have half of a day, rather than close the post office," he said. "It'd be really convenient for the whole town ... I'm for it if it's open."
In addition to losing his P.O. box, he said losing the post office would make it hard to weigh mail and buy stamps.
Knop was one of about 35 residents who attended a community meeting on the topic hosted by the Postal Service. He said the looming loss of the post office struck a nerve in the village.
"People were kind of upset about that — when they said they were going to close," he said. "First we lose our bank — when we lose the post office, we don't have anything over here."
Howard said the plans will be given to the Postal Regulatory Commission at the end of May to be reviewed over a 90-day period. She said commission leaders will have an opportunity to consider plans and make recommendations. After plans are approved by the commission, the changes would be implemented in a two-year phase-in that could start as early as September, Howard said.
Community meetings will be held in impacted areas to discuss plans in detail, Howard said. She added that it's important for citizens to be involved in the process and give their input.