“The post office is part of their identity,” says postmaster
Jasper Post Master Rick Ballew fields question from upset Tate residents at a public meeting scheduled for discussion of a reduction to the office’s hours. The Tate Post Office is located at the intersection of Highway 53 and Highway 108.
Last Wednesday, July 10, dozens of Tate residents attended a public meeting to protest a proposed reduction of hours at the Tate Post Office and were infuriated when the U.S. Post Office representative who called the meeting failed to attend.
Jasper Postmaster Rick Ballew, who was called in last minute, fielded questions and provided reports that were emailed to him just before the meeting began.
“Were we not important enough to [the director] and his supervisor that they understand that this was a meeting that was scheduled at a not particularly convenient time but that we were coming anyway?” one woman asked.
Ballew said the representative, a district manager of operations for 301 zip codes, was called into another meeting last minute by a superior, which made it impossible for him to make it to Tate.
“He is very sorry he couldn’t be here,” Ballew said. “But what we are looking at now is the revenue is not enough to support an eight-hour day of operations at this office. Sometimes there are not people who come in at all, or just one to two people come in an hour. It is not cost effective for us to be open if people are just trickling in.”
The public hearing came a few weeks after a survey was mailed to all residents living in the 30177 zip code. The survey asked which alternative to the current hours of operation Tate residents would prefer. Options included a reduction from a seven-hour day of operation to a six-hour day of operation, and three options that would close the office entirely and either use mailbox delivery, contracting a local business to offer stamps and other services, and relocating P.O. Boxes to another office.
But residents at the meeting said they wanted no change to their office, which currently operates from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. with a lunch break from 12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. The office has a full-time service window, P.O. Boxes, one full-time employee and one part-time employee.
In a later telephone interview Ballew said of the 406 surveys that were mailed, 208 were returned. Of those, 188 noted in the “additional comments” section that they wanted no adjustment to the current hours.
Ballew said one proposed change would shift hours to a 9:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. operating schedule, including a one-hour lunch break.
Some residents complained that shifting the hours to either earlier in the day or later in the afternoon would be inconvenient for those with working hours, forcing them to travel to the Jasper office for service.
One woman suggested the office open during lunch to accommodate walking traffic from a nearby restaurant.
Another man noted that many Pickens residents living outside of Tate like to use the Tate office to avoid long waits in Jasper.
“We see flocks from all around town because of the problem of having to wait at the Jasper office,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake to change anything.”
Ballew said he feels it is highly unlikely the Tate office will be closed entirely and that “on the paperwork I have received the reduction in hours is being called a likely proposal, which doesn’t mean it’s set in stone,” he said.
Ballew, who has worked in with the U.S. Post Office for over 30 years, said he has seen similar reactions from residents in other areas threatened by a reduction in hours or closure of their local post offices.
“In Blue Ridge there was a similar issue, when they were merging the Morganton, Mineral Bluff and Blue Ridge offices,” he said. “Some of the smaller post offices like in Tate, it’s part of the community identity. People enjoy coming in and seeing familiar faces, but if you are running a business, which is what the post office is, your revenue drives your number of working hours.”
Ballew also cited a recent reduction in hours at the Nelson Post Office, another of the smaller offices in Pickens.
Nelson office hours have been reduced from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Tate residents at the public meeting requested that another meeting be set up with the director of operations to discuss the proposal.
“They just wanted to have a meeting with someone from Atlanta and have their voices heard,” said Tate’s Acting Postmaster Connie White, who has quickly become a favorite of Tate residents who she says are “a lot of retired and elderly people that come in and love to talk to each other. I try to help them out as much as I can.”
Ballew has requested another meeting with the director of operations, but no date has been set at this point.