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No going postal for Kimball

Kathy Rowen, manager of Post Office Operations for 573 and 574 ZIP code prefixes out of the U.S. Postal Service Dakota Central Huron offices, speaks to Kimball area residents Thursday at the Legion Hall in Kimball. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

KIMBALL -- There were no "why us?" questions as members of the Kimball community learned more about their post office hours being trimmed from eight per weekday to six. Rather, the questions were more about how to make it work.

About a dozen people listened to and asked questions of Kathy Rowen, manager of post office operations for the U.S. Postal Service out of Huron, in a meeting room of the town's Legion Hall, as community concern was related to the arrival and departure of mail to and from Kimball.

Kimball is one of the region's communities that will go from eight retail hours to six per weekday, and Rowen said that's mostly because Kimball gets enough foot traffic and revenue to warrant the operating hours.

She said there's a hope to be able to stagger hours with other communities that are seeing larger reductions in hours of service.

Nearby Oacoma and Pukwana will go from eight hours of retail service per day down to four. Canova and Cavour are moving from eight to two hours per day, and many others are reducing hours from six to four, or four to two. At locations with four or two hours of daily retail service at their post office, postmasters will no longer be employed.

"That's a big difference, and those communities really struggle," she said.

But the USPS had a 27-percent drop in customer retail visits from 2005 to 2011, and Rowen said the post office will never operate the way it has in the past. She said that of the more than 1,000 post offices reviewed nationwide, more than 70 percent are seeing some reduction of hours.

"They'll have some growing pains," Rowen said. "We know they will."

There were no objections to the window times proposed in Kimball, which would likely be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with an hour off for lunch from noon to 1 p.m., during weekdays.

Saturday hours -- from 9:15 a.m. to 10 a.m. -- will be unchanged. The lobby and its post office boxes will remain available to customers in Kimball 24 hours a day. Carriers will leave for their routes between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

A survey was sent to the 549 postal customers in the 57355 ZIP code of Kimball showed that 163 of 173 respondents -- or 94 percent -- were in favor of a realignment of hours.

The final word on hours should be received within a week's time, and those changes will go into effect in 45 days.

The biggest questions had to do with the timing of it all, when it comes to shipments of mail coming into Kimball and going out. Mail is committed to being available for customers in their post office boxes by 10:45 a.m. Rowen said the USPS shouldn't have a lot of problems keeping that time. And the 3:10 p.m. dispatch time -- when the truck comes into town and takes the mail on to the distribution center -- shouldn't be an issue, either.

But Kimball is at the end of the particular trucking route, meaning it's often among the last to receive its mail in the morning from Huron, usually around 8 a.m. Former postal worker Phil Konechne noted his concern about being able to box up the mail in time.

"We've had trucking issues here before," he said. "We've had the mail two hours late, and that's not because of the weather."

There are also business concerns. Chad Mutziger, of locally based Midstate Communications, said they usually picked up their mail around 8 a.m. But with a reduction of hours, it will be harder to get customer's bills picked up and sent back out before 3:10 p.m., when the mail leaves.

Rowen, who supervises 573 and 574 ZIP codes in the east-central part of the state, said pressure has been relieved somewhat because the Dakota Central mail distribution center in Huron has staved off closure and will remain open until at least 2016. Rowen said next-day mail would be almost impossible for most customers in the central part of the state if Huron closed.

"They've had a lot of changeover recently with people wondering if they're keeping their jobs," she said. "Hopefully things are settling down there."