RUTLAND, N.D. – Residents here are again fighting to keep normal hours at their post office. The retail window of the post office here, now open eight hours each weekday and two hours on Saturday, will have its weekday hours cut to two hours, a U.S. Postal Service official told the small town of about 180 in a community meeting this week.The change takes place in about six weeks, said resident Paul Anderson.
When that happens, it will leave Gwinner’s post office, 20 miles away, as the only eight-hour post office in Sargent County, he said.
“It’s tough to keep these little towns going anyway. You gotta work at it,” 65-year-old Anderson said of Rutland, which is about 90 miles southwest of Fargo near the South Dakota border. “And essentially to us, the federal government is pulling the rug on us. They’re taking one of the things that helps our business out of the loop.”
Cutting hours is part of the U.S. Postal Service’s “POStPlan,” a nationwide effort implemented in 2012 to address declining revenue by reducing hours in thousands of rural post offices.
“We’re realigning hours to match workload and utilization of offices,” said Pete Slabik, manager of post office operations in west-central Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota. “We are not closing any offices.”
The changes will be reviewed in 2015, Slabik said.
The Postal Service nearly closed the Rutland office a couple of years ago before implementation of the POStPlan, Anderson said. Since then, the city has grown and the mailing center has seen more business, he said.
Hours at Rutland’s post office are being cut based on 2011 data, before that growth occurred, said Ione Pherson, who was postmaster in Rutland for 20 years before retiring in January.
And while the Postal Service has pledged to re-evaluate rural post offices on a yearly basis, it hasn’t done so in Rutland, she said. If it would have used newer data, Rutland’s weekday hours should be cut to four hours, not two, Pherson said.
“We really do understand that they’re not going to keep us open eight hours,” she said. “We would like what we have earned.”
The POStPlan has led to reducing hours in dozens of rural post offices across North Dakota, Pherson said.
Anderson argued that the Postal Service isn’t saving a lot of money in Rutland by keeping the office open for two hours a day instead of four.
The two employees at the Rutland office are part time, making $11.76 per hour without benefits, he said. An additional two hours would mean another $23.52 a day.
Pherson said she understands the Postal Service is trying to implement a nationwide policy. One exception in Rutland could open the floodgates for changes in other small towns, she said.
Still, Pherson said Rutland is being “set up to fail,” because cutting hours now will limit postal use by local businesses, which will justify the shortened hours in future reviews.
Rutland tries to be an active little town, Anderson said. There are about 38 businesses in and around town, and they’ll suffer from not having a full-time post office nearby, he said.
“As a community, we want to do business with the post office. We want it to succeed. We have increased our business there,” Anderson said. “And it seems to us that the post office doesn’t want to do business with us.”