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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Residents discouraged about Gepp Post Office's future

Thursday, March 17, 2011

U.S. Postal Service representative Mark Merritt (left) faced a barrage of questions as he met with Gepp area residents, on March 8, to discuss the future of the Gepp Post Office. Merritt explained why the postal service needs to close up to 2,000 post offices, why the Gepp office is a candidate for closure and what residents can do to advocate for its continued operation.
Despite pouring rain, more than 60 Gepp area residents made their way to the Gepp Volunteer Fire Department on March 8, for a meeting with U.S. Postal Service representatives.

In addition, more than 300 residents have signed petitions, urging the Postal Service to keep the Gepp Post Office open.

But, after an hour long meeting at which residents had their say, most came away from the meeting with the feeling there is nothing they can do to save the post office.

"It's kind of a done deal," one resident complained after hearing Mark Merritt, Operations Manager for local zip codes, and Stan Sowell from the district office in Little Rock, describe the postal system's financial plight.

After explaining the system lost $8.5 billion dollars last year, Sowell added it faces running out of money for salaries by this fall, "unless we make some drastic cuts, changes, now."

Members of the audience criticized the postal service for paying higher salaries and better benefits than it can afford and penalizing small communities for its inability to manage its money.

"You should start at the top, not the bottom," one resident suggested, as cuts were discussed.

Merritt replied the postal service has and continues to cut jobs and is negotiating to reduce salaries and benefits.

Merritt explained that getting Congressional permission to stop Saturday mail delivery and close up to 2,000 money- losing post offices are other steps that must to taken to "streamline" services and cut costs.

"Closing the Gepp Post Office won't cut your losses," one resident insisted.

"No," Merritt responded, "but closing a whole lot of Gepp Post Offices will.

Merritt explained the Gepp Post Office took in only $16,000 in revenue last year, but the cost of running a small post office is between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

Sowell added that, while no decision has been made on what post offices will close, postal headquarters asked district offices to identify small post offices that: do not currently have Postmasters; have ten or less routes; and are within 10 miles of a neighboring post office which has space and parking to handle new business.

Merritt explained the Viola Post Office, where mail is delivered for distribution to the area, has the ability to take on Gepp's customers.

He added, if the Gepp Post Office is to close, "Home delivery will continue. No one's address will change. The zip code will remain the same."

Some residents pointed out they live closer to post offices at Elizabeth, Henderson and Bakersville, Mo., and it was unreasonable to expect them to use the Viola Post Office.

The response was mail is delivered to zip codes and zip codes cannot be split.

"If they were to build a Walmart at Viola, that would be different," said Hank Klein, who is served by the Gepp Post Office but lives in Baxter County.

People laughed as Klein added, "Viola doesn't have much to offer. We go the other way (to Mountain Home)."

Another resident warned that, rather than going to the Viola Post Office for stamps or to mail packages, people will just use UPS and other private companies, causing further losses for the postal service.

Sowell told the crowd the good turn out for the meeting was in their favor and urged Gepp customers to fill out survey forms that were mailed to homes and distributed at the meeting. The questionnaires ask about how residents currently use the Gepp office and how often they use it.

Many residents praised Karen Shrable, who runs the post office, as doing a "phenomenal job," without the high salary Postmasters receive. Shrable works as an "officer in charge" and is paid an hourly salary with no benefits.

If the post office closes, the audience was told Shrable will be able to apply for open postal positions in our area.

What would happen to the post office building? It would probably be auctioned off, was the reply.

"If you live in Gepp, I realize this feels personal," Merritt told the crowd as the meeting wound down. "But this has noting to do with Gepp. It's about keeping the postal service viable."

Residents were told their questionnaires and a report about the local meeting would be forwarded to Washington D.C., where an office is evaluating what post offices will be closed.

Because of the postal system's cash crisis, Sowell expects a decision on closings by early July.

"We are still going to do everything we can to keep the post office open," said Ethel Morris. Morris, who went door to door to get 130 signatures, was still collecting names on a petition opposing closure.

Gepp resident Sharron Quick left the meeting convinced the post office will soon be no more.

"If they are going to decide on closing us in 60 days, why are we just now getting notice?" said Quick. "They are trying to push this through and, while they say we will keep our addresses and zip codes, there's no real guarantee of that."

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