CLEARWATER — Rumors are swirling that the Clearwater Beach and Countryside post offices are going to close, but the U.S. Postal Service says it hasn't made any decisions yet.
Postal officials say they'll probably shut down some post offices in the Tampa Bay area later this year due to budget cuts, but they haven't picked which locations will go dark.
"We're doing a preliminary review nationwide of stations and branches, looking to potentially consolidate some of them," said Gary Sawtelle, a Postal Service spokesman in Tampa. "We can expect some closures here, but we just don't know which ones at this time."
Still, the Clearwater City Council and the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, are concerned about the possibility of local post offices being shuttered.
"It would be a terrible mistake to close the beach post office," said Sheila Cole, executive director of the beach chamber. "We need to be proactive about keeping it, and letting the powers-that-be know how important it is. It's not an easy thing to get from the beach to the downtown post office."
The City Council recently discussed reports that a decision had already been made to close the beach and Countryside branches. If that happened, council members noted that the post office on N Hercules Avenue would become the closest option for Countryside residents, and the downtown station would be the nearest one to the beach.
Mayor Frank Hibbard met with Clearwater's postmaster last week to get more information.
"I told him there were people on the beach and in Countryside who are concerned about losing their post office," Hibbard said. "His statement was that it's premature to get concerned about different offices closing because none of those determinations have been made yet."
The U.S. Postal Service says it's making changes to its business model because it's losing nearly $2 billion every three months. It's delivering 32 billion fewer pieces of mail per year than it was just a couple of years ago.
To cut costs, it intends to close 3,100 stations and branches nationwide, and eliminate 44,000 employees through attrition and early retirements.
It's looking at consolidating locations in urban areas that have multiple postal stations and branches. Around Tampa Bay, that includes Clearwater (six stations), St. Petersburg (11), Tampa (20) and Brooksville (five).
"In the larger cities, people have more access to other ways to get their mail services taken care of. And normally, stations and branches are a little closer together, within a couple miles of each other," Sawtelle said.
Officials will examine each post office and how much mail it takes in, how many stamps and shipping envelopes it sells, and how close it is to other stations.
"We'll cull out the ones that make the most sense," Sawtelle said. No action will be taken before Oct. 1, and public meetings will be held for each post office that faces closure.
"The brick-and-mortar post office is something we're trending away from," he said. "You can do everything you need online," such as print your own postage, order flat-rate delivery boxes, and schedule the pickup of packages from your home.
It's not clear exactly when the public will learn which post offices are slated for closure.
"I don't believe we've ever done this," Sawtelle said. "It really is a product of the times."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.