New plan keeps small post offices open.

The Postal Service held a couple of town meetings this week, and no one in Sawyer or Iuka was surprised to learn that post office window operation will be reduced in their towns — from eight to two in Sawyer and eight to four in Iuka. Saturday hours, already shortened, will not be affected.

"A couple of years ago we came in and said we were going to close your office," Kathy Hand, senior manager for the Central Plains District, reminded a crowd of about 25 Wednesday night in Sawyer. She delivered a similar message Thursday in Iuka.

A new strategy adopted by the United States Postal Service in May 2012 calls, instead, for reducing hours to preserve the nation's smallest post offices, with an anticipated annual savings of half a billion dollars once the plan is fully implemented by September 2014. The Postal Service ended fiscal year 2012 with a $15.9 billion loss, which includes $11.1 billion for pre-funding retirement benefits, on which it defaulted.

"This office will be cut to two hours," Hand said in Sawyer. "That's not debatable. The decision has been made."

Although she said which two hours in the day was debatable, there was little discussion when she first proposed 9 to 11 a.m., then changed it to 9:30 to 11:30 to more closely coincide with the daily stop in the office by a rural carrier.

Iuka will be open from 8 a.m. to noon.

"I think the biggest concern is how people will get packages," said Iuka Mayor Marsha Giggy. "The lunch hour will no longer be there."

Overall, however, she said approximately 30 people in attendance were glad they will still have window service for half a day.

"We're not going to be able to fight this," Giggy concluded.

"We'll have to make it work," said Steve Flora, who operates a mail-order hydraulic parts business near Sawyer.

His policy has been to mail out orders the same day he receives them.

"That won't be possible," he said, but added, "it's better than being closed."

"I thank you for the two hours," Trent Wray, an owner of The Wrays Equipment, said. "We can work within those parameters. If we have an emergency we can go to Pratt; it's not that far."

Shortening hours seemed to be the overwhelming choice of post office patrons, when they were asked to choose between that, rural delivery, which likely would be at a few centralized locations in town, village post office in an existing business, or service from a nearby post office. Fifty-six of 62 surveys returned in Sawyer indicated realignment of hours as the best option.

"I don't think we'll see two-hour post offices go to closure," Hand said in response to a question. "We were not successful in closure efforts."

Operations at the post office in Coats were suspended when the officer in charge resigned; however the office has not been officially closed.

Under the new plan, hours of access to boxes will not change. Lobbies will remain open at least throughout the day, and possibly for 24 hours. Most post offices in the Central Plains District have 24-hour access and there have been very few incidents of vandalism. Hand knew of only one office that had to be closed at night; most people know vandalism of a post office is a federal offense, she said.

Some modifications to buildings might be necessary to ensure security.

Following posting of official notices, Hand estimated that the shortened hours would take effect on March 9.

"I think our postmasters and rural carriers are doing everything possible to take care of you guys, and that's not going to change," Hand said.