When the U. S. Postal Service announced in July that it was looking at closing almost 3,700 post offices across the country, including more than 80 in Montana and 10 of those in the 595-mailing area, many Hi-Line residents were shocked.
Now they are getting their chance to voice their concerns and offer alternatives in the hopes that the headquarters in Washington will hear them and not shut their offices down.
On Tuesday night it was Kremlin’s turn to argue for the future of its office, and about 50 people filled the Kremlin Lutheran Church to do so.
The meeting started at 6:30 p. m., with Havre’s Postmaster Randal Schwartz leading in an explanation of why the changes were being considered and why in Kremlin.
Schwartz said that the postal service has been suffering lately from a combination of loss of revenue from technological innovation and the economic troubles that have affected everybody, as well as being mandated by Congress to have to invest in their retiree benefits before all else.
The 3,653 post offices in the study are being looked at because of two criteria, that they require a less than two-hour workload and they generate less than $27,000 in revenue.
Kremlin resident Edna Gregory was one of the first to voice her concerns when she stood up and read a letter, one of many she had assembled, on the necessity of the post office for the community.
“It is the hub of our caring community, ” the letter said. “People often meet at the post office to share news and ideas — we often wish it were possible to have a coffee pot to gather around. ”
Her letter said that closure would not only take away a community gathering place and a safe place for children to wait for a ride, but would also be a violation of constitutional rights and federal law that mandates people have access to postal services.
The letter also contained the Kremlin post office’s sales figures, which have actually increased in most recent years, peaking at $18,455 in 2009, and Montana Department of Transportation records of how often highways were closed in the winter as an indicator of how difficult the new delivery plan would be.
When members of the crowd expressed their feeling that there was nothing they could do, a representative from Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg’s office, one of four staffers making treks to each of the post office meetings across the state on Tuesday night, said that Rehberg and Sen. Jon Tester and Max Baucus were all working hard to ensure that people’s voices were heard and considered in any postal changes.
Many alternatives to shutting down the post office were shared. Many agreed that they could do with fewer hours of service a day, possibly only staffing the post office from 8 to 10 a. m. each day, or fewer hours in a day.
The idea of charging for post office boxes, which Kremlin does not currently do, was discussed as a means to pull Kremlin up above the $27,000 minimum.
State Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, was at the meeting and offered a few alternatives of her own.
On the one hand she felt that the postal service was treating customers unfairly just because their current contracts with postal workers unions forbade them from cutting back on personnel. She encouraged anyone who could make such decisions to consider breaching those contracts and laying off workers.
“Breach is an option, ” Hansen said. “Breaching a contract can be a money-saving alternative. ”
She also offered the possibility of opening some sort of business in the post office building that would allow the post office to operate inside it part-time, to “house a convenience store, economic engine and gathering place, ” a “partial post office and 7-11 at the same time. ”
Others resented the way this is being done, looking at shutting down post offices in Kremlin, Hingham, Joplin and Inverness while maintaining facilities in Rudyard and Gildford, as “pitting neighbor against neighbor. ”
Soon the neighbors will have their turn to share their opinions, as dozens of meetings continue across the country and state this month.