Rural post office hours could change

Some residents in Cisco heard last week what many other Piatt County communities are hearing: that window hours at their local post offices will likely be trimmed.

But that is better news than a year ago, when the United States Postal Service proposed closing many of those local offices.

“Four hours (a day) is better than no hours,” said Rita Hatfield, a retired Cisco Postmaster who was one of seven to attend a meeting held by the USPS at the Cisco Post Office Nov. 13.

“I just think these little communities have lost so much. We’d hate to lose our post office too,” added Hatfield, who worked for the postal service for over 38 years before retiring in 2009.

The proposal for Cisco would be to change window hours to 12 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays. Israel Hilton, USPS Manager of Post Office Operations for the Gateway District, said a firm decision on hours at Cisco could be made this week.
“We will put a posting in this office and it will say one of two things: On such-and-such a date new hours will go into effect; or it will say we are still studying to make sure we have everything covered as to how mail will go out each day, how box mail will go out each day, and have everything ironed out,” said Hilton.

Meetings have also been held in DeLand and White Heath. DeLand is the first in the county to see hours reduced. New hours that went into effect Nov. 17 are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 12 noon Saturdays. Hours previously were 8:15 to 3:45 p.m. (closed 30 minutes for lunch) and Saturdays 8:15 to 10:15 a.m.

White Heath and Hammond are the only other Piatt County towns to have hosted the USPS meetings. The proposal is to take weekday window hours from 8 to 4 hours a day. The current plan would see window/retail hours reduced to 6 hours a day in Mansfield and Bement, to 4 hours in Cisco, and to 2 hours in LaPlace. Meetings in those towns will be held in the future.

Lobby hours are different than window hours in most communities, and will likely remain the same or eventually expand. For instance, residents have access to their post office boxes in Cisco from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, but Hilton said that could change to round-the-clock access.

“We’re looking at changes to make this lobby open 24 hours, so that you can come in anytime and pick up your mail. But for right now, until we get things ironed out they will remain the same,” said Hilton.

In 2011, Postal Service officials targeted 3,700 post offices nationwide for closure. That eventually gave way to the current plan, which could reduce hours at 13,000 rural offices nationwide.

Hilton said reaction to the newer plan has been more positive, but warns that it may not be a permanent solution for the post office, which has seen revenue decline as people use computers more to communicate and pay bills. USPS customer retail visits have dropped 27 percent overall since 2005.

“I don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know that it will stay just like it is. I can’t tell you it will stay at four hours for the history of the town; I just don’t know. But that’s where it is now.”

He was also asked whether eliminating Saturday mail delivery was still an option. Hilton said the idea seemed to die down during campaign season, but could be brought up again in the future.

The reduced window hours at local post offices would likely not start until at least January.

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