By LeAnn R. Ralph
WHEELER & BOYCEVILLE — The Wheeler post office and the Boyceville post office will have window hours for four hours per day and six hours per day, respectively, starting sometime next year.
Tracy Franseen, manager of post office operations for the United States Postal Service, held meetings in Wheeler and Boyceville on November 13 about the changes in hours.
Because of public reactions along with the intervention of United States senators and congressmen, USPS is no longer closing post offices, Franseen said.
Instead of closing the facilities, post offices are rated according to their volume for having window hours two hours per day, four hours per day or six hours per day, she said.
Wheeler falls into the four-hour category, and Boyceville falls into the six-hour category.
Although window hours will be more limited in both facilities, area residents will have access to their post office boxes all day, Franseen said.
Along with reducing the number of hours for the Wheeler post office, Wheeler’s rural route will be moved to Boyceville so that it originates from the Boyceville post office, she said.
Rural patrons in the Wheeler area will still have a Wheeler ZIP code, Franseen noted.
No matter what hours are determined for each post office, the lobby will still be accessible for the same hours as they are now, and the blue collection boxes will still be picked up at the same time, she said.
The exact hours that both post offices will be open have not yet been determined, but Franseen said she would make a decision within seven days of the meetings in Wheeler and Boyceville and would post the hours at both post offices.
At the time of the meetings, Franseen was leaning toward setting hours for the window at the Wheeler post office from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday.
For Boyceville, Franseen was considering setting the hours for the window from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturday, the window would be open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
The changes to the window hours will not occur before March, and in fact, March would be the earliest that the hours would change, Franseen said.
The United States Postal Service does not receive any money from the federal government and had been doing well financially for many years, Franseen said.
In 2006, however, Congress told the postal service to pre-fund health benefits for retirees to the tune of $5.8 billion per year. At that time, the postal service had 720,000 employees, she said.
USPS currently has 520,000 employees but is still paying $5.8 billion per year to pre-fund retirement benefits, Franseen said.
The United States Postal Service is now funding retirement benefits for postal service employees that have not yet been born, she said.
USPS has been asking Congress to eliminate the required funding of the retiree benefits since the postal service is now over-funding for retirement. The postal service also has been asking Congress for the last five years to eliminate Saturday rural delivery, Franseen said.
So far, Congress has not acted on either request, she said.
The postal service has been trying to reduce costs by eliminating layers of management, consolidating facilities, selling buildings and freezing executive pay salaries, Franseen said.
Customer retail visits have dropped by 27 percent since 2005, from 1.28 billion down to .93 billion in 2011.
To find out what postal patrons wanted for their post offices, surveys were sent out to all addresses in the ZIP codes for Wheeler and Boyceville.
If 61 percent or more of the people who responded to the surveys said they would prefer to use a nearby post office, USPS would close the offices in Boyceville and Wheeler, Franseen said.
“So many communities said ‘please reduce the hours rather than close the offices.’ So unless more than 61 percent say they want to use another post office, we keep the offices open,” she said.
For both Wheeler and Boyceville postal patrons, closing the post offices apparently was not an option.
The Wheeler survey was mailed to 492 patrons, and 185 surveys were returned.
Of those who responded to the survey, 130 (70 percent) said they would prefer a realignment of hours — or in other words — it would be all right to reduce the hours that the window is open.
A total of 25 people (14 percent) said they would prefer a rural mailbox delivery option.
Another five respondents (3 percent) said they would like a village post office.
Nine respondents (5 percent) said they would prefer to use a nearby post office rather than use Wheeler.
A total of 16 respondents returned the survey but did not indicate any preferences.
The village post office option refers to a business in town being able to sell stamps and accept packages that already have postage and to have the post office boxes.
Of those who responded to the survey, the top choice for window hours was 8 a.m. to 12 noon, following by 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., noon to 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Franseen said she would like to stagger the hours between Boyceville and Wheeler so that the Boyceville postal window is open when the Wheeler window is closed and vice versa.
A total of 1,605 surveys were sent out to postal patrons in the Boyceville ZIP code, and 497 people returned the survey.
Of those who responded to the survey, 412 (83 percent) said they would prefer a realignment of hours for the post office window.
A total of 29 people (6 percent) said they would prefer to have their mail delivered to a rural mailbox rather than have a post office box.
A total of 16 (3 percent) said they preferred a village post office option.
Three people (1 percent) said they would prefer to use a nearby post office rather than keep Boyceville open.
A total of 37 people returned the survey but did not make any selection on their preferences.
Drew Dickinson, the postmaster in Colfax, will be the administrative postmaster for Wheeler, Franseen said.
Boyceville will have its own part-time postmaster, she said.
Every year, the workload of the post offices will be evaluated, and if revenue goes down significantly, Wheeler could be become a two-hour office, and Boyceville could become a four-hour office, Franseen said.
Conversely, if the volume of business picked up — perhaps because a new business came to town that mailed many packages and envelopes — then the hours could be increased, she said.
Anita Rundle, clerk for the Town of Otter Creek and a Wheeler postal patron, noted that it is important for people to use their local post offices so that the revenues at least stay steady.
Franseen agreed wholeheartedly.
The United States Postal Service appreciates any and all business from postal patrons, she said.
If people purchase stamps or postage online and enter their ZIP code, the purchase gets tracked to their local post office, and that facility is given credit for the sale, Franseen said.