Purchase photos

USPS proposes hour reductions

10/13/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

GOVE -- The postage meter in the Gove County Treasurer's office will see extra duty next month when nearly 9,000 property tax statements are printed, sorted and stuffed into waiting envelopes.

But it won't apply a single cent's worth of postage on any of those statements.

Instead, that task falls to Treasurer Cheryl Remington and her staff, who will individually stick 45-cent stamps -- in some cases an additional 20-cent stamp -- on the envelopes.

That way, she said, the Gove Post Office gets credit for the sale of the stamps, showing the U.S. Postal Service just how valuable the local office is.

She also will attend Tuesday's community meeting on the proposed reduction in hours -- from eight to four.

Set for 6:30 p.m., it's the second area meeting of the day for postal officials, the first set for earlier that afternoon in Healy, 30 miles to the south.

Neither meeting, however, will be where the USPS scheduled them: in the local post offices.

In Gove's case, there's only a narrow lobby, which would struggle to hold a dozen people.

When four Gove County employees converged on the post office recently to pick up county mail, they walked around each other, unable to even stand in line at the counter.

A public outcry at both Gove and Healy prompted local postmasters to ask for and receive permission to move the meetings to larger facilities. In Gove, the meeting will be in the Government Building, while the Healy meeting has been moved to the high school auditorium.

Notices are posted at several locations in Gove, the smallest county seat town in Kansas, the pre-printed meeting spot crossed out and Government Building typed in beside it.

Residents said they will attend the meeting, but many suspect the decision already has been made, and it's a better alternative than losing their post office altogether.

This isn't the first time the city of Gove -- with only about 65 residents, down sharply from the 80 counted in the 2010 census -- has fought big government.

In early 2007, Gove swelled to three times its normal size for a community meeting called by the Farm Service Agency, which wanted to merge Gove County's office into the one in Oakley.

Gove's efforts prevailed and the office remained.

But there's already a lack of hope of reversing the idea of cutting the post office hours in half.

There's an underlying fear the postal service will come back in two years and reduce hours even more, or shut it down altogether.

Concerns also are evident that another run might be made at closing the FSA office, which also relies on the post office. Worse still, there's a concern -- but not often mentioned -- of a possible effort to move the county seat elsewhere.

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Remington and Gove County Register of Deeds Cristy Tuttle said the county already is hamstrung by the new pickup times for outgoing mail, the result of a shift in sorting responsibilities in Colby and Hays.

As it is, there's a rush to the post office at approximately 11 a.m. each day, just as soon as the mail is put into boxes in the post office. Any mail that has to be processed and shipped back out has to be back in the post office by 1 p.m.

Marvin Beesley, who helped spearhead the fight to save the FSA office, thinks a post office, even with reduced hours, "can still serve the community. So I don't have a big fight.

"It's a lot better than being closed."

"I'd rather see them reduce the hours than close its doors," said Don Zerr, a farmer who stopped by the post office.

"I'm not in favor of reducing hours," said Frank Powers as he picked up his mail and his copy of The Hays Daily News one recent morning. "But I'd rather have that than lose it. Whatever it takes to keep it open to get stamps and mail packages."

While he doesn't like it, Wayne Cook is among those who won't be fighting the reduction in hours.

"It beats coming out here and saying we're done," he said.

That holds true for Betty McDonald, whose Gove City Yarns caddy-corner from the post office is probably the biggest shipper in the city.

"Our business has been built on being able to ship in 24 hours," she said. "If we lose it, we're going to be in big trouble."

Trouble that extends well beyond her business.

"I don't know how they can close it with our government offices here," she said. "I think we'll lose that too. I could survive with four hours. It will be an adjustment to say the least."

"We just need a post office," Remington said. "We just can't do without a post office. I don't think losing a post office in a county seat is quite right."

That's why she'll be at the meeting Tuesday.

"I'll do anything to keep our post office here," Remington said.

That's why she had placed a $1,510 order -- through the local office -- for 30 rolls of 45-cent stamps and eight rolls of 20 cent stamps.

"I'm not a defeatist," Beesley said of expecting postal officials to move ahead with their plan to reduce hours. "But reality is reality sometimes."