ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Belmont County residents soon may see eight local post offices close as the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service looks to cut costs.
"It's no secret that the Postal Service is looking to change the way we do a lot of things," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said. "We do feel that we are still relevant to the American public and the economy, but we have to make some tough choices."
Belmont County offices that may close, pending results of a Postal Service study and review, are those in Lafferty, Warnock, Blaine, Barton, Alledonia, Bannock, Fairpoint and Glencoe.
The United States Post Office founded by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia that predates the American colonies is on the Postal Service’s list of branches that could close.
Other local post offices that may be on the chopping block in eastern Ohio are those in the Harrison County communities of New Athens and Piedmont. The offices in the Jefferson County village of Empire and the Monroe County community of Cameron may also close.
A total of 115 offices in Ohio are being reviewed and considered for closure.
Recently, postal officials announced that Flushing would see a community post office opened inside the Convenient Food Mart. The village's original office closed last year due to a property dispute. Flushing resident Sandy Kidd recently said she hoped Flushing's neighboring communities would not lose their mail centers the way Flushing lost its for about a year.
IN POSTAL PERIL
Lafferty, Warnock, Blaine, Barton, Alledonia, Bannock, Fairpoint, Glencoe
New Athens, Piedmont
"It seems like this is happening all over the country. I think all the small post offices are in trouble," Kidd said Tuesday. "I don't think we ever thought anything like this would happen. It hurts a community to lose a post office because it is a part of you, just like a church or a school."
Across the Ohio River, West Virginia could lose as many as 150 post offices, including three in the Northern Panhandle.
In Marshall County, the Dallas office may close, while Ohio County's Short Creek center is also a target for closure. The Windsor Heights office in Brooke County is also being studied for closure.
Sen. Joe Manchin is not happy about the Postal Service seeking to close so many Mountain State post offices, calling the decision "terrible."
"With respect to this terrible announcement, the Post Office needs to explain why it seems that West Virginia faces a disproportionate burden of these closings when compared with other states, as well as how the post office will continue to serve rural communities," said Manchin, D-W.Va. "I grew up in the small town of Farmington - with just several hundred people - and I speak from experience when I say that rural post offices serve as a critical lifeline to communities. As an elected representative, I receive dozens - sometimes hundreds - of letters a day from my constituents, many of whom can only reach me by writing a letter."
Manchin previously spoke out against Postal Service plans to remove some mail shipping jobs from Wheeling, as well as the decision to eliminate the automatic Wheeling postmark.
Customers can call 800-275-8777 to voice their views on the matter.
Over the last four years the Postal Service, which does not receive tax funds for its operations, has cut its staff by about 130,000 and reduced costs by $12 billion in an effort to cope with the loss of first class mail to the Internet and the decline in advertising mail caused by the recession. For example, about half of all bill payments are made by Internet now, up from 5 percent a decade ago.
An office being listed among those studied for closure does not necessarily mean it will close. The post office announced in January it was reviewing 1,400 offices for possible closing. So far 280 have been closed and 200 have finished the review process and will remain open.
The post office operates 31,871 retail outlets across the country, down from 38,000 a decade ago. The agency lost $8 billion last year.
Once an office is selected for a review, people served by that office will have 60 days to file their comments. If an office is to be closed, they will be able to appeal to the independent Postal Regulatory Commission.
"Today's announcement is a step in the right direction. There are, however, many difficult decisions ahead that must be made to improve operations, reduce costs and return the Postal Service to financial solvency," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service.
The post office "must consolidate facilities and streamline operations in the way that countless private sector companies have done to remain viable in the face of new markets, new technology and changing customer needs," said Issa.
Postal officials have also sought permission from Congress to reduce mail delivery to five days a week and to ease the requirement that they pay $5.5 billion annually into a fund to pre-pay future retiree medical benefits.