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USPS considers closing Harris post office

The post office in Harris, Iowa. (Kari Lucin/Daily Globe)

HARRIS, Iowa -- Two employees of the U.S. Postal Service faced a hostile crowd in Harris Thursday during a discussion about closing the town's post office.

"There has been no final decision to discontinue this office," emphasized Sara Lindauer, post office review investigator.

Harris' post office, with its 85 post office boxes, joins 2,000 others nationwide under consideration for closure, including Ashton, Iowa, and Dovray and Kenneth in Minnesota.

Should the Harris post office close, it would save the USPS approximately $32,000 a year.

Lindauer, who also serves as a small town postmaster, was accompanied by Kent Gochenour, manager of post office operations for northwest Iowa.

Mail volume and work volume has decreased about 25 percent, causing a corresponding decrease in revenue. Because the U.S. Postal Service is losing $23 million a day, they explained, it is looking at cost-saving measures anywhere it can find them, from cutting management positions by 15 percent last year and cutting them again by 20 percent this year, to consolidating plants.

That was poor consolation to the 60-plus people who staunchly defended the Harris post office and criticized every level of the USPS management.

"This is a sensitive issue," Lindauer said. "We understand that you guys might be angry or upset about this."

Should the Harris post office close, its operations would be taken over by the Ocheyedan branch.

The mail would be delivered by rural route carriers.

People who currently have post office boxes would be able to have either curbside delivery or cluster box units, which can be locked.

People could purchase stamps and send packages via their carriers, and their addresses would still be denoted as being in Harris.

The study to determine whether to close the Harris post office began one month ago, and will take 6 to 9 months to be completed, at the end of which the post office may be closed.

Currently, Lindauer said, the study is in the one-month information-gathering stage, after which she will post the information for 60 days and also send it to the Postal Service's Vice President of Delivery and Operations, who will decide whether to close the operation.

"The chances of this getting through are very good," Lindauer said. "I try to be very honest with people about this."

After the Vice President of Delivery and Operations makes a decision, it will be posted for 30 days, during which time people can make an appeal.

People at the meeting were concerned about when the mail would be delivered to their homes.

Gochenour emphasized that mail carriers would still have to return to the Ocheyedan office by the time it closed, so the mail could not be significantly later than it already is -- the routes would have to be reconfigured in order to make returning to the office feasible.

Only post offices with vacant postmaster positions are being considered for closure at this time, but Gochenour and Lindauer expect more offices will be considered as time passes, as the decline in mail will likely continue or stabilize at the current lower level.

Harris postmaster Joyce Jensen retired March 26, 2010.

Gochenour was asked whether the current postmaster replacement in charge of the Harris office, Jamie Vickery, was going to lose her position, and then asked how he'd like it if he lost his job.

"My job could go at any time," Gochenour said.

Vickery would not be able to continue working in Harris, Gochenour and Lindauer explained, but would receive consideration if she applied for another position with the USPS -- which is currently under a hiring freeze for positions with benefits.

One person at the meeting said it sounded like all post offices should be closed, and wondered whether the system should be privatized.

The USPS representatives replied privatization would probably not keep the Harris office open.

Other criticism was directed at the "crooks" in charge of the USPS, the cluster boxes, the current mail carriers, Congress and Lindauer and Gochenour themselves.

"Please don't attack us," Lindauer said. "We are just the messengers."