By Bobby Cervantes
Rural Texas Panhandle post offices likely will remain open -- but with shorter business hours -- after postal officials backed off a plan to shutter dozens of area locations, officials said Tuesday.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said Wednesday the tentative plan will spare about 3,700 low-revenue locations nationwide from the budget ax, including 37 offices in rural Panhandle communities.
The move would save the agency $500 million a year and quell concerns of rural residents who opposed post office closures in their areas, Donahoe said.
The list of the once- targeted post offices in Panhandle-South Plains included Adrian, Wildorado, Briscoe, Estelline and McLean.
The new proposal includes maintaining existing post offices, staffed by at least one employee, with modified retail hours to match customer use at specific locations, an agency news release said.
According to the proposal, some Panhandle post offices will have two hours shaved off their regular business hours and others will be open for four hours a day.
The Postal Service will continue to study options that include contracting with local businesses to host offices inside their locations and offering postal services from a nearby office, Donahoe said.
The agency must now seek regulatory approval for the change and get community input, which could take several months. The new strategy would then be implemented over two years and completed in September 2014, according to an Associated Press report.
U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, said funding the nation's post offices is one of Congress' most essential functions outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
"I am encouraged to see the post office has taken my concerns and those of others seriously as they continue to seek ways to address their massive financial challenges," Thornberry said.
"Reduced hours are not an ideal solution, but it is a far more reasonable proposal than just closing post offices that our communities rely on every day," he said.
Thornberry's district includes most of the Texas Panhandle and stretches south to Wichita Falls.
Retired teacher Rita Bronniman, of Adrian, said losing her local post office would burden older residents and ranchers outside Adrian who depend on the Postal Service to receive their medications. The closest post office would be a 30-mile round-trip to Vega.
"With it turning around like this, and all these little communities getting together and everything, doing what they can and then having a positive outcome, it gives me a little more hope that the government might hear what we're saying," she said. "We felt like we had to jump through the hoops because we certainly wouldn't have any chance of a positive outcome if we didn't."