The hours are going to be shorter, but the doors are still open.

Helix and Ukiah post offices got a reprieve last week as postal officials opted to cut hours of operation from eight to four as a way to save money over closing them down. Weston got a boost in hours to six from four.

Thousands of rural post offices around the country were impacted along with 129 in rural Oregon including Adams, Cove, Echo, Fossil, Haines, Imnaha, Ione, John Day, Kimberly and Seneca.

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe told U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., “The Postal Service intends to provide communities with an important alternative to the potential consolidation of rural post offices, which we believe will result in very few post offices being consolidated in the future.”

This means shorter hours of counter service in the short term. The potential closing of the Pendleton Regional Sorting Center in favor of consolidation in Portland is still on the table.

This means the quality of service to Eastern Oregon is still facing a downgrade.

Merkley is pleased that “rural voices were heard.” We are thankful for Merkley and other officials who made sure they were, in fact, listened to by the Postal Service.

The facts are the service level of the U.S. Postal Service will not stay the same without big changes in its cost structure. Revenue has dropped some 27 percent over the past five years and huge deficits are being racked up.

The fix likely includes radical reform starting with cutting back on the days service is offered along with major changes in pay, benefits and work rules. The former is unpopular with customers, like us, while the latter is a reason for severe postal worker stress.

If the Postal Service were a business, it would long ago have changed its operating plan as there would have been no choice.

It would likely look more like FedEx or UPS. Daily service to every mail box in the land would not be in the game. Nor would the kind of pensions and work rules enjoyed by the postal workers.

But the U.S. Postal Service is not a business. It was established as a government agency early in our history to provide a way to tie the nation together. There were no phones, not even a good highway system.

Business and governmental affairs depended on finding some way to communicate.

That was then, but this is a different age of blazing technology, texting, on-line bill paying, competitive deliverers of packages and expensive gasoline.

The old model is broken. But the need for regular mail service, especially in rural areas, lives on. Yes, snail mail does matter.

Politicians and the general public are constantly talking up the virtue of small businesses. Well, these small businesses still desperately need the Postal Service.

This especially applies to those businesses located in the 129 small towns in Oregon and thousands of others around the country.

Painful reform must take place. But it should not be based on closing a few small post offices to save even $500 million. That sounds like a lot of money. But it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problem.

Many smart senators and experts have offered serious solutions to the issue. This includes Sen. Merkley.

Hopefully, the debate and future actions will take the long view and find a way to create a new U.S. Postal Service that is scaled to a size and offers the kind of services that the nation can afford and must have to continue communicating even in a new age.

Just keep in mind the core mission of service to all Americans. This includes those in small towns and hamlets like Helix.

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