As financial problems force the U.S. Postal Service to consider closing hundreds of offices across the nation, local branches have escaped the list.
"It’s the center of the community. The post office is where everybody goes and everything happens — it does in Talmo anyway," Darlene Swancey, postmaster of Talmo’s Main Street office, said with a laugh.
"I have regular customers every day who have had a P.O. box since the first day they came here. Many people have lived in this town their whole lives."
Generation after generation received mail in post office boxes instead of on the street, and many older residents still see it as a "big thing to come in every day," she said.
"They meet out here in the lobby, catch up and talk about what’s going on," she said. "For some of my elderly customers, it’s part of their day to come in and see me."
The Postal Service is facing a $7 billion loss this year despite a 2-cent rate increase. Of the 32,741 offices across the country, the agency has sent a list 700 potential candidates for closing or consolidation to the independent Postal Regulatory Commission for review.
Postal Vice President Jordan Small told a congressional subcommittee this week that local managers will study customer access, service standards, cost savings, environmental impact, real estate values and long-term needs.
"We’re 15 miles in any direction from any other office and we serve almost 3,000 people, so I don’t think we’ll be consolidated here," said Jimmy Turk, postmaster at Lula’s McLeod Street post office. "But anything’s possible."
The only Georgia offices to make the list are all in Atlanta: the CNN postal store, the Gate City station and the Hartsfield Airport store.
"We’re too far from anywhere else to consolidate. The ones that are being considered are real small and close together," said Chuck Westfall, acting postmaster at Clermont’s Main Street office.
Westfall said the money problem may stem from high projections for budget deficits in the future. Congress is considering a bill to change the way the post office funds its retiree health benefits over the next two years that could save $2 billion annually.
Postmaster General John Potter said it was a burden for the Postal Service to make advance payments of more than $5 billion each year to a retiree health-benefit fund, which are not required of other government agencies.
"By talking about consolidation, I think they’re trying to force Congress to not pre-fund the retirement plan," Westfall said. "We’d have to pay millions for retirement employees not even hired yet. Last year, we made a little over $1 million, but factoring in the retirement, it shows us not making any money."
In addition, Potter asked Congress for permission to reduce mail deliveries from six days a week to five.
No changes are expected before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.