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U.S. Postal Service cuts mean changes for Whately customers

The Whately Post Office on Chestnut Plain Road

The Whately Post Office on Chestnut Plain Road Purchase photo reprints »

— The Board of Selectmen is concerned about the future of its one and only post office,which serves 330 residents at the center of town.

The post office is one of about 13,500 around the nation that will see hours cut as a result of the Postal Service’s need to reduce operating costs.

Whately’s hours will be reduced from eight to six per day, according to Christine Dugas, a spokeswoman with the Postal Service.

The Postal Service says the hour reduction takes the place of many closures slated for this year and helps to preserve rural post offices.

Other Franklin County towns that will likely see hours reduced by two per day include Shutesbury, Montague, Sunderland and Wendell.

Like many rural communities, Whately residents will soon have a say in the future of their post office. They will receive a letter and a survey from the Postal Service, asking them to select one of four options: keep the post office open; discontinue the office and offer curbside delivery; establish a “village post office”; or provide postal box service at another nearby post office.

The Postal Service is “putting its feelers out there to see if communities prefer a village post office rather than reduced office hours,” Dugas said.

A village post office, commonly held in a library or town hall, would provide post office boxes and sell stamps and offer prepaid Priority Mail boxes. The advantage of a village post office is that the office will be open longer than the offices with reduced hours. Although Whately’s hours are reducing by two, some communities across the nation are losing four to six hours of service. Saturday’s office hours will remain unchanged nationwide. The S. White Dickinson Memorial Library is targeted by the Postal Service as an option for a village post office. However, the library, which is open 26 hours a week, would not be able to accommodate postal work, town administrator Lynn Sibley said.

A community meeting will also be held to share the survey results. The Postal Service states it could take up to two years to complete the nationwide process that will include 13,000 sets of surveys and meetings for rural towns. The first surveys will be mailed out this month and meetings around the nation will start in October. The date and time of Whately’s meeting has not yet been set.

Since 2006, the Postal Service has experienced a 25 percent decline in mail use.

“It is projected the decline is going to continue,” Dugas said. “We don’t get tax dollars. Part of our strategy is to reduce hours.”

Originally, 1½ years ago, the Postal Service produced a list of potential post office closings. This plan has been put on hold in lieu of reduced hours. “People made it clear they’d rather have the post office open part-time rather than not at all,” Dugas said. “Service is the most important focus for us. No one is looking to reduce service to customers, but we have to reduce costs.”

The selectmen are concerned about what the Postal Service’s recommendation really means and how it will impact the status of the town’s post office.

“This makes me believe they want to get rid of that post office,” said Sibley. “We’re concerned about the deep-down reasoning behind (the village post office) and whether it really is to just compensate the fewer hours.”

The U.S. Postal Service, however, will not force communities to open village post offices.

“Nothing would be done in that direction unless a community indicates that it is their preference,” Dugas said. “If they don’t want a village post office, then they’ll just go down in hours. This is not a precursor to closing at all. It’s to avoid closing.”

The Chestnut Plain Road Whately post office is in the center of town and contains 330 boxes for residents and businesses, with a postmaster and part-time postmaster on Saturdays.

The post office is essential, Sibley said, to prevent persistent delivery problems from worsening. “Our post office is very busy as small as it is and we already have a lot of confusing issues,” Sibley said.

Currently, there are two rural routes from South Deerfield and Haydenville that deliver to Whately residents. But these two neighboring town routes create a problem. Whately residents have had mail delivered to South Deerfield homes because the same address exists in both towns. For instance, both towns have a River Road.

If the 330 boxes are eliminated from the center of town, all 330 Whately residents will have to use the rural routes through South Deerfield and Haydenville, adding to the confusion, she said.

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