Lehigh post office under review

Lehigh is one of 13 Kansas towns in jeopardy of losing its U.S. Post Office, according to information presented at a town meeting Wednesday at the Lehigh City Building.

More than 30 people attended the meeting with the hope of learning what they can do to save their post office.

?This is all we have left and this is our community,? one Lehigh woman said. ?This is where we get together and where I go to find out things. If it?s taken away from us, what do we have left??

Ron Reilly, postmaster from Columbus, Neb., who also is involved in the discontinuance studies, said the biggest thing to remember is that the post office is not leaving Lehigh.

?We will be providing the same service, but not as convenient,? he said. ?The post office does not make the community, the community makes the community.?

Only a study

Reilly said several times that Lehigh, and the other towns, are involved in a study and no decision will be made until all three phases of the study are completed.

The other locations in Kansas currently being studied are Dan?ville, Freeport, Geuda Springs, Milan, Niotaze, Piedmont, Sycamore, Lehigh, Coats, Elbing, Havana, Iuka and Elk Falls.

Reilly said the post office uses two criteria to determine whether a post office will be studied for closure: the postmaster position being vacant and workload declines show the office no longer earns two hours of work per day.

Ruth Coyle serves as a Lehigh?s postmaster relief employee with no benefits, he said. Lehigh has not had a full-time postmaster since September 1996.

As for the second part, a two-week survey in Lehigh revealed the incoming mail volume was 228 pieces with the office dispatching 63.

?Transactions at the window were 38,? Reilly said, ?and 33 of those were non-revenue. Only five were revenue transactions.?

The discontinuance studies are not limited to small towns.

?We are doing a lot of things to include studies on big, small and intermediate size towns,? he said. ?Wherever we can save money, we are doing it. We have to because we are broke.?

Future mail service

If Lehigh?s post office were shut down, Reilly said, the community would go to a rural carrier system with mailboxes either at the curb or in cluster box units.

Using the rural carrier can complete all services the post office does, including selling stamps, collecting and delivering packages, providing money orders.

?It is not a brick-and-mortar building and does not have a bulletin board and there is no postmaster there,? he said, ?but we have to look at these options because we are broke.?

Reilly said he agreed with many attending the meeting that normally the post office is the last face of government in small towns.

?We are not picking on small town America,? he said. ?Mail has dropped 20 percent in the last five years.?

One Lehigh resident asked Reilly, ?What if the rural carrier we have around here now has difficulty with the clients? I know that for a fact.?

Reilly said that would be an issue to talk with Michael Monnington, manager of postal operations for 670, 671 and 673 zip areas.

?The post office has 560,000 employees,? Reilly said, ?and not all of them are the best employees.?

Another person said that if Lehigh?s post office closed and Hillsboro would be available for services, it still wouldn?t work.

?Hillsboro closes for lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and closes for the day at 4:30 p.m.,? she said. ?How can I conduct business when they are closed during lunch and before I leave work??

Again, Reilly suggested this is a concern that Monnington should answer.

Reilly said the entire discontinuance study takes a minimum of 210 days.

The study in Lehigh started in May and is expected to conclude sometime toward the end of 2011 or early 2012. Changes would not go into effect until March or April 2012.

?We came here to be educated about Lehigh?s post office,? Reilly said. ?We want to look customers in the eye and learn about the community, which the person in charge (of the post office) cannot always convey.?

In addition, Reilly said they want to educate their customers about what is going on with the post office and what would happen if it discontinued in Lehigh.

From that information, a binder is put together and will include the surveys gathered from Lehigh customers.

?We want people to review that packet and look at their appeal rights,? he said.

Reilly also said people should consider going to the district office in Omaha or on up to the Postal Regulatory Commission.

?The law says we have to provide effective service and rural carriers are all over the nation everyday,? he said. ?That is what we would propose to go with (in the event the Lehigh post office closed).?

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