Nebraska postal officials will begin meeting with local residents in Southeast Nebraska next week to sort out new and shorter schedules for window service in their towns.
The first town hall session will be Tuesday at the community building in Crab Orchard.
Others already on the schedule will be held at Brownville, Nemaha, Elk Creek and a half-dozen other locations through mid-November. In some cases, including Bee, Endicott and Swanton, the plan is to cut the current eight-hour schedule to two hours.
Todd Case, who manages area post office operations from his Lincoln office, said 87 of the 109 rural post offices in his 683 and 684 ZIP-code domain will be affected.
“We’re starting with vacant offices right now where we don’t have a permanent postmaster,” Case said.
The exchange between providers of mail services and customers is the latest in a long series of steps meant to narrow the huge gap between cost and revenue for the U.S. Postal Service.
Those in charge of the operation nationally have seen mail volume plunge, and a budget that’s supposed to be self-sustaining is awash in red ink. The agency defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment last month, and operating losses for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 are expected to top $15 billion.
But with members of Congress reacting to complaints from constituents, a 2011 plan for closing thousands of small post offices, including as many as 90 in Nebraska, has been cast aside.
If the latest approach to cost containment in rural settings stands, “this will all be done by September 2014,” he said. “Initially, we will get the first wave of offices done by March. And we will do the remaining offices as post office jobs become vacant -- postmasters retire, move on, etc.”
In some towns, including Hallam and DuBois, the struggle to keep local access to postal service has had some especially painful twists.
Hallam got a new post office building after its predecessor was destroyed by a 2004 tornado. The approximately 140 residents of DuBois raised more than $25,000 five years ago to buy the building that housed their post office to keep it open.
The schedule Case offered Tuesday would cut hours of operation in DuBois from six to two and in Hallam from eight to four.
Which hours those will be will be one of the subjects for the town hall exchanges.
Ray Musil, a Town Board member in DuBois, is trying to keep a series of ups and downs in perspective.
“I guess, in a way, it’s ‘you win some, you lose some,’” Musil said. “Sure, it’s an inconvenience, if it’s only two hours a day, but it’s a lot better than being closed.”
Mark Simonson, banker and Town Board member in Hallam, said he’s not sure what hours customers there would prefer. “They’re not going to please everybody with one or the other,” he said.
Where possible, Case and his staff will look for retail outlets in small towns that could sell stamps and provide some level of service when the post office is closed.
“There are about 12 offices that will go to two hours, about 63 that will go to four hours, and another 12 that will go to six,” he said.
Lincoln also has been targeted for consolidation that would send mail to Omaha for initial processing, do away with a Lincoln postmark and affect the jobs of some local postal workers.
As of Tuesday, “nothing has moved to Omaha yet,” Lincoln Postmaster Kerry Kowalski said, “and at this point we’re not sure when it will move to Omaha. We’ve not gotten official notification yet."
An earlier estimate of 17 jobs affected has been reduced to “the neighborhood of seven,” Kowalski said.