NEW HARTFORD --- Possible post office closures in Northeast Iowa aren't sitting well with residents in targeted towns.
The U.S. Postal Service is desperately trying to cut costs, including shuttering post offices that lack customers or revenue to justify their existence.
The agency is hosting town hall meetings to find out what effect closures will have on communities. The most recent was Thursday night in Quasqueton, and a similar event was held April 25 in Evansdale.
At times, passions have erupted during heated debates. Discussions Wednesday night in New Hartford reached the boiling point, according to participants, and two postal service officials abruptly left the gathering at the middle school.
"They just walked out on us. They didn't even give us the courtesy of answering our questions," said Sue Nickalaus, who attended. "... They didn't even care what we wanted to say."
Nickalaus said the meeting started at 6 p.m. and lasted about an hour.
Thomas Allen is manager of post office operations for the Hawkeye District, which covers most of Iowa. He hosted the event in New Hartford along with Sarah Lindauer, a post office review investigator for the district.
The meetings are meant to explain feasibility studies concerning selected post offices. Officials also discuss the organization's financial problems --- the postal service lost $8.5 billion last year --- and its commitment to service.
Allen offered no explanation why he and Lindauer left the New Hartford meeting without officially closing the proceedings. He did say it was a "bad meeting" and futile to continue.
"I'm not sure what to say ... I don't want to come out looking like the bad guy," Allen said.
However, he defended their actions.
Lindauer, according to Allen, warned the crowd only questions pertaining to New Hartford's facility and customer service would be allowed. Inquiries about why cuts couldn't be made elsewhere weren't permitted, he said.
Despite the warning, Allen said a resident asked such a question, and the crowd wanted to know things Allen and Lindauer said they could not or did not want to answer.
"We were just taking up their valuable time. (Lindauer) tried to get the focus back and it was not working," Allen said.
Officials reportedly explained post offices in nearby Stout and Cedar Falls could serve residents' needs and noted patron can buy postage online. Cluster boxes --- secure steel containers to receive and mail letters and get packages --- would replace 212 post office boxes currently available for rent in town.
Mayor John Anderson said more than 150 residents attended the meeting. All were frustrated at the end, he said.
After suffering through a deadly tornado and a devastating flood in 2008, Anderson was hoping the postal service would be more understanding.
"I don't think it's a positive thing at this stage," he said.
According to audience members, many people asked why Stout, with a population of 222 and a community less than half the size of New Hartford, isn't in danger of losing its post office.
During the meeting in Evansdale, where tensions ran high as well, residents asked similar questions. They wondered why nearby towns like Raymond and Dewar, which have a fraction of Evansdale's population, aren't being targeted.
One New Hartford resident reportedly suggested merging the Stout and New Hartford post offices in New Hartford. Postal officials, however, said that won't happen.
It's the postal service's policy not to remove a sitting postmaster or force them to move.
"People may not understand the 'why' part (but) we know we're doing the right thing," said Richard Watkins, a spokesman for the postal service.
Allen said a decision to close New Hartford's post office won't be made for up to nine months after the study is complete.
In Quasqueton, residents are also concerned their post office will be shuttered.
"The way it looks around here with all the other post offices closing ... it looks like it's probably going to happen," Mayor Lee Bossom said.
A clerk has been running the office since the postmaster retired, he added.
The Quasqueton Post Office serves the town, which has 554 people, and about 40 businesses. If it closes, those patrons would have to go to Winthrop, Rowley or Independence, which have postmasters.
That would be difficult for older residents, Bossom said.
Staff writer Josh Nelson contributed to this report.