When towns were being settled across Western Nebraska in the late 1800s, one of the sure signs of an official town was when it got a post office. Now, some in Gering are wondering if theirs might become a casualty.
Recent rumors have surfaced that the federal government, in its effort to cut spending, is planning to close many small, rural post offices, including those whose zip codes begin with 693 – which includes Gering.
It was just 10 years ago when the Gering Post Office requested help in finding a new, larger building in the downtown area, as it has outgrown its facility across from city hall.
Representatives from the Post Office’s regional offices said the rumors about the Gering shutdown were false. However, on March 31, 2011, the United States Postal Service (USPS) proposed a rule that would change the process for closing small, rural post offices.
Current law prohibits the service from closing an office solely for financial purposes. But some small offices are concerned they would be targeted for closure for not generating revenue, not because the closure would save a large amount of money.
The Postal Regulatory Commission has reported that even if all 10,000 small, rural post offices were closed, it would only save seven-tenths of one percent of the USPS operating budget.
Wrangling over small post offices goes farther back than the USPS proposal to change how closures are determined.
In a Jan. 31, 2011 letter to Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, the USPS Central Plains District in Omaha said the service would be making what it called “delivery unit optimization.” The letter to Nelson continued “A new effort that we are exploring is to realign employees in our delivery units and we wanted to make you aware of the effort.”
The letter said “delivery unit optimization” was needed because Postal Service revenues have been declining since 2006 with the steady decline of mail volume it processes. As the letter stated, “Less revenue, coupled with the ongoing recession and the prepayment of retiree health benefits, has created a situation the Postal Service has never faced – this necessitates review of operations efficiency at the local level.”
When contacted on Monday, Rep. Adrian Smith’s press office in Washington said they knew nothing specific about the Gering Post Office at all, closure or otherwise.
Gering Mayor Ed Mayo said he was concerned about the wording of the letter to Nelson. “The Post Office is trying to be pretty stealth about what they’ve done.”
Mayo said that when he contacted Smith’s Grand Island office last week, he was told that staffing could be reduced.
“Letter carrier service would come out of Scottsbluff and the Gering Post Office would be reduced to only a postmaster and whatever minimal staff it takes to operate the office,” Mayo said. “To me, minimal staff means filling the post office boxes and selling stamps.”
Potential changes at the Gering Post Office were discussed briefly by the Gering City Council Monday night. All agreed the changes are unacceptable.
“Gering is the county seat and has been for more than a hundred years,” Mayo said. ‘We have all the county offices, the courthouse, the county jail and sheriff’s office. The Health and Human Services office is also in Gering. If the Postal Service wants to do something, maybe they should look at Gering to do whatever they do in Scottsbluff.”
Smith, along with Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska’s other two Congressmen, have sent a letter to the Postmaster General, applauding him for efforts to balance the service’s budget.
They urged USPS to keep in mind the impact on local communities and local jobs when deciding whether to close a facility.
Mayo also urged Gering residents to contact Smith’s office and the USPS and urge them to keep the post office open at current levels of staffing.