BALM – In about three months, this community’s historic post office will be open only on a part-time basis.
But, for both local patrons and postal authorities, it’s the preferred alternative to a complete closure considered 18 months ago as the federal agency began contracting under financial restraints and Balm’s citizens objected strenuously to the potential loss.
Beginning on February 23, 2013, the little facility that has been continuously serving residents of the rural community for a century will be staffed to provide the customary range of postal services from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, according to Enola Rice, U.S. Postal Service district spokesperson. This five-hour day includes a window closure for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., creating a four-hour or half day service schedule during the business week, she indicated.
The new schedule is part of what the postal service calls its “Post Plan,” a comprehensive and nationwide approach the agency developed in an effort to meet post office patron needs while also cutting costs to deal with a growing burden of debt. Post Plan, announced last May, keeps the nation’s rural post offices open “by modifying retail hours based on customer use.” Rice said. The plan allows that “all Post Offices previously under consideration for closure would remain open,” she noted.
In addition, under the plan, access to the retail lobby and postal boxes, along with the community zip code and facility community identity, will remain unchanged, Rice said.
Faced with an extraordinary obligation to pre-fund retirement costs as well as financial losses attributed to mushrooming use of computer-based email communications in place of hard copy mailings by both commercial interests and private citizens, the postal service in recent years has been re-inventing itself. Examples of the restructuring include broadening its services and offering enhanced package options at the retail level while also consolidating its facilities and modifying service hours.
The Post Plan is being implemented on a multi-phased basis over two years, Rice added, with completion expected in September, 2014.
Balm area postal patrons were given an opportunity to weigh in by making choices among a range of options in mid-October. A total of 213 survey forms were distributed at the time, with 52 of them or about 25 percent of the total, returned, Rice said. Choosing from among such options as limited service hours in the present location, going to a delivery concept, accepting services at neighboring post offices five to nine miles distant or establishing some services in another community site, 50 of the 52 respondents zeroed in on the first option, she added. In other words, 96 percent or the overwhelming majority of the survey replies preferred limiting hours in the existing post office rather than any other possibility.
These results echoed sentiments expressed in April, 2011, when some 60 Balm post office customers converged on the facility to inform USPS authorities that closure of their historic postal service center which also is a community gathering place would not be acceptable. At the time, they emphatically rejected both a route delivery system and use of another post office in a neighboring community.
The Balm Post Office, while tiny in comparison with the large edifices that are post offices in major metropolitan areas across the country, is no less an integral part of its community, residents have asserted, serving successive generations of its citizens for a 100 years as the community’s communications heartbeat; a central site for written as well as face-to-face communicating.
Gerald Davis, direct descendant of one of Balm’s pioneering families and owner-operator of an agricultural business in the community which depends on reliable, nearby postal service, agreed this week that a reduced-hours schedule at the post office is the best choice, given the circumstances. Part-time hours certainly beat closure, he acknowledged, adding that he expects Balm’s postal patrons probably will be able to adjust to the change coming in February.
Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson