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Monday, Apr. 27, 2015

Sturkie claims 'special situation' to try to keep post office open

Monday, October 31, 2011

(Photo)
Rep. Lori Benedict (standing) tells postal service representatives the Sturkie Post Office should remain open, because it would be dangerous for Amish residents to make frequent horse and wagon trips to the Salem Post Office. Three members of the Amish community also spoke in behalf of keeping the post office, which is on a closure list, in operation.
Residents of Sturkie watched as the U.S. Postal Service closed the Gepp post office, even though a citizen appeal is still pending.

But, more than 20 Sturkie residents met with USPS representatives on Wednesday, Oct. 19 to argue their post office should remain open.

"I encourage everybody to give me some positive feedback as far as anything that makes this community unique, that we would need to keep this post office up here," Shane Davis, the acting manager of postal operations for our area, told the audience, as the meeting began.

First, Davis read a list of reasons why the postal service is forced to seek major cutbacks in service.

"The postal service is facing a financial crisis," Davis said, citing a huge drop in USPS mailings caused by the emergence of online services, and the economic recession. "We can no longer afford to maintain our extensive retail network."

Davis said, besides closing small post offices, the post office is closing processing facilities, adjusting mail routes and reducing staff at national and regional levels to deal with billion dollar losses.

According to Davis, the Sturkie Post Office is on the closure list because there is another post office nearby (Salem), and closing the Sturkie office would save the USPS $56,457 a year.

Davis added customer feedback is considered before a post office is closed and asked for citizen comments.

"Has revenue from our post office increased or decreased over the past five years?" Sturkie resident Stanley York asked.

"It actually has increased the last four years," David replied, saying the post office took in $8,729 in 2007 and $10,737 in 2010.

"So, that's a good thing," York said.

"Yes, absolutely," Davis replied.

Later, York, who built and owns the building the post office leases, offered to consider reducing the lease rate, to keep the post office open.

York told the representatives his family "grew up in the post office," as his mother ran it out of the Sturkie Store for decades.

York got a laugh from the crowd when he explained he built the current building because the post office wanted to move post offices out of stores.

Now, York said, the post office wants to put postal service back in retail stores.

"If you take it out, I guess I'll have to put the store back in to get the post office back, right?" York said to laughter. "Doesn't make much sense, does it?"

Carolyn Lewis, who uses the post office to mail packages for an online business she operates, said it would be "a great imposition" to have to take packages to the Salem Post Office.

State Rep. Lori Benedict, who lives in Sturkie, emphasized a "special situation in our community," that she believes warrants keeping the post office open.

"We are a growing community," Benedict said. "We have our whole Amish community moving in, just starting to open businesses. They just put up a schoolhouse this year. A lot of these people...do business by mailing packages out. Of course, you know they travel by horse and buggy."

Benedict said frequent trips to town would not only be inconvenient to the Amish, but dangerous on the county's narrow, winding roads.

John Shelton, one of three Amish residents and businessmen who spoke, said he regularly mails packages from the Sturkie Post Office.

"It is across the river and very handy and I would hate to lose it," Shelton said. "I would hate to drive my horse all the way into Salem to deliver my package, because it is a dangerous road."

Some residents could not resist criticizing post office decision making.

"How come you picked a night (for the meeting) when people go to church?" Mary Lewis asked. "We would have a lot more people here had this not been a church night."

"You mentioned an appeal process a while ago. Are we going to get the same appeal process Gepp got?" asked one resident, referring to the fact the postal service closed the Gepp post office, with no notice and its appeal still pending.

"We are here to talk about Sturkie tonight," Davis quickly responded.

He acknowledged, however, the Gepp closing has caused hard feelings in other communities where he has held meetings.

"I will touch on Gepp. I get that at a lot of meetings. The Gepp office is not closed. The Gepp office is under a temporary suspension. I mean, they are still going through the process," said Davis.

The citizen challenged that statement, pointing out post office boxes have been moved to Viola and all postal equipment removed from the leased building.

"But, again, we are here to talk about the community of Sturkie tonight," said Davis, trying to steer the topic back on course.

As the meeting neared an end, residents pointed out there has been a post office in Sturkie since 1884, and closing it will rob the community of its identity.

In response to a question, Davis said some of the 100+ Arkansas post offices listed for closure, maybe nine, have received recommendations to stay open, after being studied.

During the meeting, Davis mentioned Sturkie could still receive limited postal service, if the post office is closed. One alternative would be a "cluster box," a group of individual locking postal boxes, which an employee would fill each day. The employee would also be available for a short period of time to sell stamps and collect packages for mailing.

After the current study of the Sturkie Post Office is completed, a staff recommendation will be made, with the district manager and a national vice-president making the final decision. If the post office is ordered closed, citizens will have 30-days to appeal. If no appeal is filed, the station could be closed within 60-days.

Other area communities are still waiting for their meetings with USPS representatives. Wiseman's meeting will be held on Oct. 26. Elizabeth's meeting is scheduled for Dec. 15, and Camp's meeting is to be held Dec. 20.



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