(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
Franklin postmaster Monty Hyder, who stepped in for a regional U.S. Postal Service official at the last minute, told a crowd crammed into the back room at the post office that many other comparable post offices were having their hours slashed much more deeply or were being closed entirely, painting the changes in Unionville as the best of the possible outcomes.
"This is actually one of the better ones," said Hyder, "with the six hours."
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
"Everybody across the nation is, like, 'Hey, don't close my post office,'" said Hyder. He said he was once postmaster in New Johnsonville, at a post office smaller than Unionville's and that he knows the important role a post office can play as a community hub.
Unionville postal customers were sent a survey asking their preference among four options -- reducing the post office's hours, eliminating P.O. boxes and converting all customers to roadside delivery, setting up a "village post office" inside a local business, or closing the post office completely and transferring its P.O. boxes and routes to another nearby office.
A total of 1,307 surveys were mailed and USPS received 492 responses, which Hyder said was a strong level of response. Of those respondents, 87 percent preferred realigning the hours to the other three options.
Ron Adcock, however, noted the oddities of the postal routes in the area, saying that he lives just a short distance from the post office -- but, because he is on a Shelbyville rural route instead of a Unionville route, he didn't receive any notices or surveys related to the Unionville office.
"The Shelbyville route runs right past this post office," said Adcock. "You've got routes overlapping each other, and I think that ought to be looked at." Hyder had previously mentioned fuel costs as one of the challenges being faced by the Postal Service, and the public meeting crowd said that a realignment of rural routes might help reduce that. But Hyder said realigning the routes would cause some people to change their ZIP codes.
"Nobody wants to change their ZIP code," said Hyder. "They're not going to change that."
Hyder said during the meeting that while the final decision is not yet set in stone, the realignment of hours is the most likely option. A handout at the meeting lists the proposed hours as 7-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. weekdays. Saturday hours would continue to be 8-11 a.m., as they are now.
As a consequence of the reduction in hours, the currently-vacant postmaster position at Unionville would not be filled, and the clerk running the office would not have the title of postmaster.
Hyder said a final decision, which will ultimately come from USPS headquarters, should come in the next couple of weeks and would be implemented "fairly soon ... probably within the next month or so."
Several members of the crowd indicated that, while the new six-hour schedule wouldn't be the end of the world, they were still concerned that the office might ultimately be closed. Hyder said once the current changes are made, any future proposal to close the office would go through a new notification process.
Will Ridley, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, told the crowd that DesJarlais had been fighting the closure of several post offices in his old district borders -- which, at the time, did not include Bedford County. He promised that DesJarlais would fight for constituents on postal closure issues.
Even though the village post office idea -- a post office inside a local convenience store or other business -- was not chosen by survey-takers, Hyder said the cutback to six hours means that Unionville would qualify to have a village post office in addition to its traditional post office. But Hyder said that would start with a merchant or business owner applying to host one.
Hyder was asked by one citizen exactly how much would be saved by the cutback from eight hours to six. He said he didn't have an immediate answer himself but that he would attempt to find out.
Other citizens used the meeting to complain about federal spending, even after Hyder pointed out that the Postal Service's budget is separate from the federal budget and is not funded by tax money.