published Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Customers, union oppose 3 post office closings

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    Chattem financial officer Ed Rusk speaks during a meeting at the South Chattanooga Recreational Center held to allow the community to voice concerns over the potential closing of the Alton Park Post Office.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Three Chattanooga-area post offices could be closed by June if recently launched studies find them underused.

The Alton Park, East Brainerd and Highland Park post offices are on the chopping block. Their services and 58 collective employees would be rolled into larger nearby offices if the post office determines the savings would outweigh the service cuts. The closings would help the agency save on overhead and management positions, officials said.

But during a public hearing Tuesday, residents complained that shutting down the offices could hurt local businesses and elderly or disabled people who rely on the offices' proximity.

Ed Rusk, Chattem Chemical's financial officer, said his company can't have mail delivered because of safety concerns. Shutting down the south station office would hurt the business as employees had to go farther to pick mail up, he said Tuesday night at a meeting held to gather public comment about the potential closures.

"To have our employees traipse downtown would be a major, major inconvenience. It's a waste of money," he said. "We need this facility to stay open."

But that may be an impossibility for the Postal Service, which bled almost $10 billion in 2011. The federally mandated but not federally funded business has seen a drastic decline in first-class mail as users shift their correspondence online.

The Chattanooga postal operation as a whole is profitable, said Betsy Yoder, the area's postmaster general, but not one retail post office is in the black.

"We're in dire straits," she said to a packed room of more than 70 Alton Park and St. Elmo area residents. "We're looking at all we can do to save money, generate revenue and keep the post offices open."

Several of those attending the meeting, including several small-business owners, said they depend on a nearby office and asked the Postal Service to look at other areas to save money.

R.J. Hoffman, a state vice president for the American Postal Workers Union, said the agency should lure senior employees into retirement with incentives rather than close branches.

"They're trying to figure out ways to cut expenses, and cutting customer service isn't it," he said.

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