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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Freistatt residents rally to save post office

Monday, August 29, 2011

(Photo)
Aurora Postmaster Frances Boman addressed around 80 people who had gathered to hear about the U.S. Postal Service's plans to close the Freistatt Post Office. Boman explained that written comments from all concerned citizens would be considered as the proposal is reviewed. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Around 80 people packed the Freistatt Community Building on Thursday to hear about the U.S. Postal Service's proposal to close the post office in Freistatt. The meeting, initially expected to last an hour, extended for two hours as a challenge was posed from another faction within the postal community over the reasons behind the proposition.

Frances Boman, postmaster in Aurora, and Bobbi Jenkins, the postmaster from Strafford, represented the Postal Service in making the formal presentation.

Letters had been mailed to all the postal customers in Freistatt announcing the meeting. Boman admitted there were mistakes in the letter, identifying the Monett Post Office as an alternative source for service as three miles away, instead of 7.7 miles. Kirbyville, near Branson, was also listed as three miles away.

Boman said of the 30,000 post offices nationwide, more than 3,600 are being considered for closing. Of those, 133 are in the Midwest district, mostly in Missouri and Kansas.

Different tiers have been established to identify offices for a closing review. One factor is revenue, based solely on stamp sales. Sales in Freistatt have increased from $22,929 to $23,813 between 2008 and 2010, which Boman said was unusual. The review looks at offices generating less than $27,500 a year.

A second factor was having a workload of two hours or less a day, and a third factor was having alternative sites. Boman said area post officers under consideration had other offices between two and 14 miles away.

If the Freistatt office was closed, Monett would become the administrative office for Freistatt's mail, Boman said. Carriers serving Stotts City, another post office considered for closing, would operate out of Pierce City.

A rural carrier from Monett already comes to Freistatt, Boman said. He would be able to fill orders for stamps, take packages and process money order applications. Customers would need to wait for the carrier. In some cases, the carrier would have to complete the order back in Monett and return the next day.

Another alternative would entail establishing what is called a "village post office." A local business or individual would contract to act as a commercial mail receiving agent with the postal service. The agent would house post office boxes and fill them. Most services offered would be at a flat rate. Money orders would not be available.

Boman stressed no decision had yet been made about the Freistatt Post Office. Title 39 of the U.S. Code dictates steps that must be taken to close a post office. Surveys were sent to each of the 87 households. The comment section provides a vehicle for stating reasons to keep the office open.

Boman urged those present to respond to the survey. Additional copies are available from the Freistatt postmaster or letters of comment can be sent to the headquarters level of the Postal Service, which is conducting the review, at 125 S. Washington St., Strafford MO 65757.

A written proposal from the Postal Service will arrive in about a week and be displayed at the Freistatt Post Office for 60 days. The report will document cost of running the current service and the cost for the rural carrier alternative.

The public can comment on the report's contents and the closing proposal in general through the 60-day period. All written comments will be included in the dossier reviewed by a panel at headquarters.

A final decision will be exhibited at the Freistatt Post Office for an additional 30 days. The public will have 30 days to submit comments, either in writing or via email to appeal the decision. After the appeal period, if the commission has decided to close the post office, the operation will be shuttered in 30 more days.

Commentary from the audience filled most of the meeting. David George made an appeal to preserve the efforts of his late brother, Chester George, who worked for much of the last year of his life to get a crosswalk built between the senior citizens housing complex and the post office. Postmaster Jane Mattlage received several rounds of applause for the service she provides.

Several pointed out that many Freistatt residents do not have cars and many are senior citizens. One woman called the post office a lifeline outside the community. Teacher Susan Senninger said Internet service is "nominal at best," making a "click and ship" option not much of an alternative.

Boman said closing the post office would not alter anyone's current address, unless they had mail sent to general delivery. Customers would have to get mailboxes, raising some questions about where a mailbox would be located on Highway H. A former truck driver said the Freistatt Post Office offers the strategic advantage for truckers, who can pull up in a big rig and mail logs, whereas no other city post office from Arkansas to Interstate 44 offers that convenience.

As Boman prepared to leave for the public meeting on the Stotts City post office, Steve Vanderhoof, president of the Missouri branch of the National Association of Retired Postmasters, announced he had followed Boman to six meetings last week. Vanderhoof said there was nothing wrong with the Postal Service wanting to economize. Closing a disproportionate number of post offices in Missouri at a questionable savings did not offer a significant alternative.

Vanderhoof said Postal Service officials are attempting to coerce the U.S. Congress to take one of three options----end Saturday service, close little post offices or change the retirement and benefits arrangement.

Currently, the Postal Service pays $5.5 billion a year to the U.S. government to pre-fund retirement and health benefits for the coming year. The Postal Service has overpaid its retirement and health benefits by $50 billion to $70 billion. Congress will not credit the money put into the fund back to the Postal Service, having spent it, Vanderhoof said. Congress also counts on the ongoing annual payment from the Postal Service to cover other government spending.

Vanderhoof urged those present to fill out the surveys and also write letters to Seventh District Congressman Billy Long and Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill. He said the congressional delegation was very influential, and a handwritten letter to them was worth 30 phone calls. Vanderhoof had high praise for Eighth District Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, who has served on the postal oversight committee and has worked hard to stop closings.

If the Postal Regulatory Commission decides to close the Freistatt Post Office, Vanderhoof said the community will not likely win an appeal. He said the financial formula used to evaluate post office activity does not reflect real numbers in rural Missouri. Vanderhoof urged residents to participate in the process and actively work to save their post office.



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