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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kansas could lose more than 150 post offices

BY BRENT D. WISTROM
The Wichita Eagle

Zenda, population 90, has a quaint main street with a big white church, a community museum and a steakhouse that draws patrons from miles away.

But it's one of more than a hundred towns across the state that may lose one of its most enduring institutions — the post office.

That has people like Kathy Price, the general manager of the Zenda Telephone Company, worried.

"We mail everything we have out of the post office in Zenda," she said. "We'd be very upset to see it go."

Zenda's tiny post office is one of 156 across the state and 3,700 nationwide that postal officials say average less than $50 in sales and less than two hours' worth of work a day.

Other regional offices that will be studied — or are already being examined — for closure include: Bentley, Viola, Nashville, Cassoday, Dexter, Sun City, Sawyer, Sharon, Isabel, Elmdale, Yoder, Potwin, Peru, Murdock, Mayfield, Latham, Cambridge, Atlanta, Wilmore, Sylvia, Hamilton, Hardtner, Geuda Springs, Coats, Danville, Elbing, Elk Falls, Iuka, Milan, Neal and Piedmont.

The smallest town on the list is Freeport with a population of 5.

The reason for the potential closures is in the numbers.

The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion during its 2010 fiscal year, largely attributed to web-based services, online billing and private competitors that have acquired much of the postal service's business.

The Postal Service receives no tax money.

But folks like Robert Jacob, who lives in Bentley, have a lot of questions about how things will work if the local post office closes.

Like most people in Bentley, he goes to the small post office every day to retrieve his mail and send things.

"I can't believe they'd close it down," he said. "That's not right. We're U.S. citizens. We need postal service."

Brian Sperry, a regional spokesman for the Postal Service in Denver, said service will be maintained by rural carriers if the post office is closed.

Rural carriers would deliver and pick up mail from mailboxes Monday through Saturday and take orders for stamps, shipping boxes, money orders and other things.

"Virtually anything you can do at a post office you can do with a rural carrier," Sperry said.

Meanwhile, the Postal Service will contract with local stores or government offices to set up Village Post Offices where people could buy stamps, flat-rate boxes and other popular items.

People who want to retain their post office box would have to set up a new box at a different post office.

But Sperry stressed that no decisions have been made to close any Kansas post offices yet.

The next step will involve postal officials gathering data and conducting community meetings where people can tell officials how the closure could affect them.

Once a decision to close an office is made, a proposal will be posted at the post office, giving the community 60 days to submit more feedback.

Then Postal Service officials will make their final decision.

But the community will have another 30 days to appeal the closure to the Postal Regulatory Commission.

"Change is not easy, and we understand that," Sperry said. "But in this case it is necessary."

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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