The Mineola and Emerson post offices will remain open but at reduced hours as part of a U.S. Postal Service cost-cutting move to improve the organization’s financial stability.
The plan keeps the existing post offices in place but with modified retail window hours designed to match customer use. Access to the retail lobbies and post office boxes would remain unchanged.
If approved formally this week, Mineola would be open 8 a.m. - noon Monday-Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Emerson would be open to customers 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Similar changes are expected at post offices in Hastings and Silver City in Mills County and several other rural communities in southwest Iowa over the next few months. New hours of operation at Mineola and Emerson will go into effect in early February.
Wes Gronemyer, Central Plains District Manager for U.S. Postal Service Operations, met with community members in Mineola and Emerson last week to discuss the changing face of the rural post office. Since 2005 visits to the U.S. Post Office’s network of 31,000 post offices has dropped 27 percent. The post office reported losses exceeding $15 billion in 2012.
The postal service mailed out surveys to dozens of southwest Iowa communities last February seeking feedback on postal options in a changing market.
The post office’s cost-cutting strategy began last spring with closing some rural post offices and offering services at a nearby post office, reducing hours, contracting with local businesses to form “Village Post Offices” and creating rural carrier routes in smaller communities among the belt-tightening options.
The survey of Mineola residents found 86 percent of respondents favored a realignment of hours over rural route delivery and the village post office options. In Emerson, 90 percent of those surveyed also preferred reduced hours.
At Mineola’s Tobey Jack’s Steakhouse last Tuesday, Gronemyer presented a proposed realigned hours plan to 20 residents. A major point of contention among those in attendance was exactly what those new hours would be at the Mineola post office. A 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Monday through Friday schedule was suggested by Gronemyer’s office, while a handful of attendees made a plea for an 8 a.m - noon schedule to better accommodate those residents who utilize the post office prior to work in the morning.
Gronemyer heard those pleas.
“I think the meeting went real well and I think a real solid case was made for having the hours to go from 8 (a.m.) to noon,” he said in a Wednesday interview. “We’ve gone back and looked at it and we think we’re going to be able to accommodate that.”
Gronemyer has hosted a half of a dozen scheduled meetings with communities throughout southwest Iowa concerning post office operations. He said a request for altered hours hasn’t been among the top talking points but the meetings have been well attended and opinions have been spirited.
“A lot of folks appreciate we’re keeping the offices open,” Gronemyer said. “A year ago, we were going around looking at closing offices and now we’re trying to keep them open. A lot of people are appreciative and they understand they are going to have to change when they go to the post office. But for the most part, it (response) has been good.”
The reduced hour strategy is projected to save the post office $600,000 in the first year alone in the central plains district, which covers Kansas, Nebraska and western Iowa. When the multi-state, phased implementation of the new plan is in place, the post office expects a half billion dollars in savings annually.
The post office has yet to set dates and times for meetings in Hastings and Silver City concerning those community post offices.
In addition to Mineola, Emerson, Silver City and Hastings, western Iowa post offices subject to possible closure or reduction include, Carson, Elk Horn, Elliott, Dunlap, Defiance, Hancock, Lewis, Minden, Panama, Persia, Pisgah, Portsmouth, Shelby and Stanton.