Shorter hours in works for small post offices

But they'll remain open under a plan announced Wednesday by the US Postal Service.

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Operating hours at rural post offices across the Walla Walla Valley will be cut but the doors will remain open in a piece of good news delivered to small-town residents Wednesday.

The U.S. Postal Service announced a new strategy that would keep its post offices open but with modified hours that would help the financially strapped agency.

In a prepared statement Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer Patrick R. Donahoe said meeting the needs of postal services remains a top priority balanced by aligning service options with customer demand and reduced operating costs.

"With that said, we've listened to our customers in rural America and we've heard them loud and clear -- they want to keep their post office open," Donahoe continued. "We believe today's announcement will serve our customers' needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability."

Under the proposal announced Wednesday, daily post office hours in Dixie, Prescott, Starbuck, Touchet and Wallula would be cut from eight to four. Hours of operation in Burbank would be reduced from eight to six daily.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission. According to the announcement, the Postal Service plans to file a request with that organization later this month. Community meetings would be conducted to gather public opinion.

If approved, the new strategy would be implemented with a two-year, multi-phased approach slated for completion in September 2014. When all is said and done, the changeover is expected to save the federal organization half a billion dollars a year.

Additional alternatives are also expected, including providing mail delivery service to residents and businesses by either rural carrier or highway contract route; contracting with a local business to create a Village Post Office; and offering service from nearby post offices.

"The Postal Service is committed to serving America's communities and providing a responsible and fair approach for our employees and customers," said Postal Service Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan in a statement. "The post offices in rural America will remain open unless a community has a strong preference for one of the other options. We will not close any of these rural post offices without having provided a viable solution."

In addition to cuts in retail hours, the Postal Service has offered a voluntary early retirement incentive for the country's more than 21,000 non-executive postmasters.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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