In its effort to cut $2 billion in costs and stave off financial disaster, the U.S. Postal Service is planning to end Saturday home delivery as of Aug. 1, except for packages, and trim operations at some 13,000 smaller post offices across the nation.
Eight Berkshire County post offices and one in nearby Middlefield are affected, according to Postal Service regional spokesperson Christine Dugas, through a menu of service reductions proposed and in the process of approval -- mostly cutbacks in retail counter and window hours.
"This is one of the many strategies the Postal Service is pursuing to reduce costs and try to build revenue," said Dugas on Wednesday from her office in Providence, R.I., where she covers facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
The Postal Service is in the midst of a major restructuring throughout its retail, delivery and mail processing operations. Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000 or by 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations, officials say. The agency's biggest problem -- and the majority of the red ink in 2012 -- was not due to reduced mail flow but rather to mounting mandatory costs for future retiree health benefits.
The cutbacks at the local post offices, which are being rolled out gradually and may take well into next year to complete, are aimed at village and small-town post offices with their own ZIP codes that usually are not far from larger facilities.
In the Berkshires, the affected post offices are in two of the five villages that make up the town of New Marlborough. Others include East Otis, which will be the first one to undergo changes; Ashley Falls, a village on the Connecticut border within Sheffield; Glendale, an outpost in Stockbridge near the Norman Rockwell Museum and Chesterwood; Lenox Dale; the town of Sandisfield; and South Lee, halfway between Stockbridge and Lee.
Customers in all those locales either have been or will be surveyed on their preferences, followed by public meetings and final decisions. Survey options include closing a post office -- the least popular, Dugas pointed out; relocation of post office boxes; limited retail service to a nearby store or library; and a reduction of counter hours, the most favored of the choices. Customers preferring the service reduction are asked to indicate their choice of open hours.
Layoffs of career Postal Service employees will be averted, according to Dugas, who explained that the agency's strategy is to reduce 35,000 letter-carrier and supervisory positions through attrition.
"Most of us are baby boomers in the latter stages of our careers," she said.
There could be some "staff adjustments" on a case-by-case basis, usually affecting postmaster positions, she said. Facilities open to retail customers for fewer than eight hours a day would be managed by a supervisor at a nearby post office.
Associated Press material was used in this report.