Lostine caught in USPS reform

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer March 01, 2013 09:34 am

by KATY NESBITT / The Observer

Small-town post office could see hours reduced as part of USPS realignment strategy

LOSTINE — The face of small town post offices will be changing in the coming years as the U.S. Postal Service realigns itself, according to USPS representatives. 

Seventy-five people packed into the Southfork Grange in Lostine Wednesday night to discuss those potential changes with Larry Stone, regional manager with the USPS. Under the new changes, Lostine’s Post Office hours would be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

Lostine Mayor Krag Norton, who runs two mechanical shops in Lostine, said shipping would be tougher for him to send a part out with fewer window hours.

“If it’s after 1 p.m., we have to drive to Wallowa or Enterprise,” Norton said.

A postmaster reserve, an hourly employee, would staff the office during those four hours and administrative work would be conducted from the Wallowa Post Office, Stone said.

Stone said two criteria weigh in when the Postal Service determines reduction in services; workload and if the local office is more than 25 miles from the next post office. Many small post offices are scheduled to have their hours reduced to six, four or two hours a day. Lostine’s post office hours will be reduced to four in order to save approximately $46,000 a year over having a full-time postmaster, Stone said.

Workload is based on transactions, so each individual purchase is a transaction. In Lostine, Stone said, they run about $5 each, just 50 cents more than the price of a book of 10 stamps.

Stone said the Postal Service struggles to compete with UPS, except on small packages, and it needs to be more competitive to survive. He said they can compete with packages under 5 pounds and ship packages up to 70 pounds.

Gay Behnke said reduction in service affects business in Lostine differently than it would in a bigger community.

“In Salem, when a post office closes, there’s another one two miles away,” said Behnke.

Mike Machiato said when Norton’s business is affected, so are their customers.

“It affects every logger, farmer and rancher with broken-down equipment,” said Machiato.

Norton said he values the relationship the small town postmaster has with patrons.

Muriel Jones recently retired from that position in Lostine after 57 years.

“She was down there on Christmas Eve, when the post office should have been closed, calling people and telling them they had packages. If I was expecting parts, she made sure I got them,” Norton said.

Stone said for patrons who need to pick up packages outside of the hours of 9 a.m to
1 p.m., he suggested installing a parcel locker in the lobby of the post office. A key would be placed in the post office box to use to retrieve the package. The downside, said Stone, is if someone doesn’t pick up their package quickly, it could take up space needed for newer mail.

Each year after the change in hours, the post office will be re-evaluated for its workload and number of transactions to determine if the hours would be reduced, or possibly, increased.

June Colony asked Stone if the post office’s hours are reduced from eight to four, wouldn’t that reduce the number of pieces of mail that go out, causing the Postal Service to re-evaluate the needs of Lostine and reduce the hours to only two?

“By reducing hours we reduce work load,” Colony said. “It’s self-fulfilling.”

Each year after the change in hours, the post office will be re-evaluated for its work load and number of transactions to determine if the hours would be reduced, or possibly, increased. Stone said the post office would have to realize a 40 percent drop in business to reduce hours to two a day.