Postal workers hear concerns of Emery residents regarding post office closure
Closing the United States Postal Service for the town of Emery was of major concern to the residents. This concern culminated in a town hall meeting held Oct. 11 at the Emery Recreation building. More than 160 people were in attendance.
John Barkley and David Matheson from the United States Postal Service and Randy Anderson, the Emery Postmaster, were on hand to explain what the future held for the town of Emery with regard to their continuing or not continuing to have a post office. Prior to starting the meeting several people came to the microphone and loudly vented their frustrations, feelings and opinions about the possible closure of the Emery Post Office. These feelings and opinions were received by the group with loud clapping and cheers. Some of this boisterous attitude continued on into the meeting. A petition was being circulated for signatures concerning the closure of the Emery Post Office.
Emery Mayor Mistie Christiansen welcomed everyone, asked them to be respectful of others and then read a letter from Congressman Jim Matheson. This letter outlined the difficulties the USPS was having in continuing to function as a viable business, due to the loss of revenue to competing forms of communication. The USPS ended the year 2010 in debt $12 billion dollars. The USPS has announced the potential closure of 3,652 post offices across the country. In Utah the following post office branches are being considered for closure, Clawson, Dutch John, Emery, Hanksville, Henrieville, Lyman and Whiterocks.
Federal law sets out a closure process, which takes at least 120 days to close a post office branch. The USPS must notify the affected public and hold a 60-day comment period prior to closing a post office. If the USPS decides to proceed with the closure, the public has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission. USPS may shut down a post office 60 days after it has made a closure decision. The USPS has said there will be no service changes or branch closures before late December 2011.
Congressman Matheson further stated in his letter, post offices offer important services to the public and I understand the concerns regarding the closure of these branches. Changes need to be made to keep this organization solvent and I remain committed to finding solutions to address growing concerns over the fiscal stability of the USPS.
Senator David Hinkins, Commissioners Laurie Pitchforth and James R. Nelson were also in attendance at this meeting.
Emery Post Office, Postmaster Anderson introduced Barkley, Manager of the US Post Office Operations for Southern Utah and Dave Matheson a USPS retail specialist for the Salt Lake District. Anderson said this is not a done deal. However the Emery Post Office is under review and crowds like this will help.
Barkley thanked everyone for coming and said, "We are from the post office, Salt Lake City District Office. Our district covers Utah and the major part of Idaho. We are here to talk to you about a really sensitive subject. For the past 12 years I have had the privilege of working with Randy Anderson a good man.
"I know that the closure of your post office is a very emotional topic. This decision is being made economically. The decision has been pressed on us at the national level and falls in line with the economics of our nation today. Until 2007 our organization was still growing by leaps and bounds. When the economic downfall came in 2008, that is when the postal service began to see a tremendous decline in revenues and in the products that were being presented to us.
"Our number one growth product from which we gain the most revenue, to keep our services going, is first class mail. First class mail has declined at a phenomenal rate and continues to decline.
"Every time we lose one piece of first class mail to electronic bill pay, electronic communication, electronic greeting card or for whatever purpose, we have to generate five new pieces of advertising mail to offset that cost.
"In 1971 the postal service was reorganized. Prior to that time it was the post office department. When it was reorganized some services were discontinued. Such as twice a day delivery to homes in cities and three times a day delivery to businesses. Delivery of mail was reduced to one delivery per day. For rural delivery, you always received your mail through a no fee post office box. The point is that we have had to consolidate because of technology and because of costs due to the loss of customers using our services. The goal of the postal service is to work leaner, faster and smarter so that we can stay relevant and so that you will use the services that we provide.
"Prior to the 1971 Reorganization Act for the Post Office you the taxpayers paid for any shortfall in revenue.
"One of the major things about the 1971 Reorganization Act was that we were mandated by Congress to operate at a break even point. In other words our revenue had to equal our costs. That means that our rates for first class, second class, periodicals, parcel post and priority mail and all of those other postal services had to cover our costs. We have to factor in our costs for an extensive transportation network, an extensive processing network, an extensive delivery network and an extensive retail network. All of those services have been scrutinized and worked on to become leaner, faster and smarter. We have done a great job over the past 40 years. All of those services have been made more efficient. We no longer have teams of postal workers manually throwing the mail. In 1980 the delivery point bar code sorter was put on line. We can now process entire zip codes in five-10, 20, 30-40 minutes depending upon the size and the number of deliveries in that zip code. That automation kept us viable in our costs. While we had moderate rate increases. They never exceeded the consumer index. We have become as efficient as we possibly can.
"In 2006 another reorganization or another piece of legislation was passed, Congress set on us some requirements to prefund health care, to prefund retirements, to prefund other employee benefits at a rate much greater than the private sector. The postal service is fighting to get those mandates reversed and that fight goes on. Prior to that time the postal service was meeting the requirement to operate at a break even point."
Barkley continued, "Without some of those costly mandates, this postal service would have ended 2011 in the black with $1.7 billion. As it exists right now, we are looking at losing between $10-15 billion because we are prefunding a lot of things. We cannot continue to do that because we have a debt ceiling, that was put upon us in that same reorganization act. We can only borrow a certain amount of money similar to the Federal Government.
"One of the strategies that is being pushed out to us in the field is the requirement to look at all of the post offices that meet a certain criteria for discontinuance of their retail services. Each of you received in your questionnaires this summer, information about the process that has to be followed, which under the Reorganization Act we can do if we follow the regulations. Remember this is a process. No decision has been made. That decision will be made at the headquarters level after all of the questionnaires have been read, all of the meetings have been held and an extensive analysis of the costs of what we propose to do, verses what actually exists today. We plan to make it as efficient and as cost effective and maintain our requirements for service in this community.
"If that decision goes forward, here are some of the proposed alternate delivery methods for you to receive your mail.
"You get your mail presently through your post office box here in Emery and it is a no fee box. One of the proposals is to take the boxes here and consolidate them with the boxes in Ferron. One of the advantages of putting the boxes in Ferron is as follows: none of your addresses change, none of your zip codes change, none of how you get your mail changes except the location which is about 14 miles away," said Barkley.
At this point the audience erupted to correct Barkley. They reminded him it was a 30 mile round trip. He then said, "In our proposal that goes to headquarters it is necessary to have that information in the proposal.
"Another proposal is that you set up a village post office in either a business in the community or one of the community services. That community service could apply for a village post office. Information is available to anyone interested in filing to do that. There are a limited amount of retail services that go along with that. They would maintain the post office the same as you now have here in Emery. The zip code and the address stays the same. The mail is put in the boxes by whoever was approved in the contract to do that. That person would be under the same criteria as the postmaster or a city carrier and they are scrutinized by the Postal Inspection Service.
"A third thing that we can do and that is we can give you street delivery. Street delivery is a group of cluster boxes installed after working out a location in the community for placing those boxes. Then we would have a contracted delivery route person come and service those boxes. It is not curb line box delivery. It will be delivery to the cluster box location that we work out with the community. We would try to select a location convenient for the general population here.
"That is what we can do under the Reorganization ACT if we decide that we want to discontinue retail services here in the community. Retail services are such things as stamps, packages and postage. There are pros and cons for all three of those proposals. I do not have all the answers. Dave Matheson will take notes and we will write down some of the things we do not have answers to. In each of your packets is a letter that I signed, there is a contact phone number. If you have questions feel free to call and ask. More than 3,500 post offices have met the criteria for retail discontinuance. We are going though the process on each of those 3,500. We have a clipboard in the back and we would like for you to put your name on that to indicate your support for this issue," stated Barkley.
Before the questioning session began Postmaster Anderson recognized that Senator David Hinkins, Commissioner J. R. Nelson and Commissioner Laurie Pitchforth were in the audience. He said, "David Hinkins had been at the other meeting and his comments and support were appreciated." The meeting was then opened up to the group for questions.
Barkley said, "In answer to a question about retail service at the Emery Post Office, we just printed out our financial performance report for the fiscal year 2011. The retail revenue that was generated at this post office was $10,994. The year before it was almost $18,000 you declined almost 40 percent in the use of our services. That is the trend. To keep that post office open costs us $90,000 a year.
"In this change of consolidation you will not get the same level of retail service that Randy has given you. We are in a competitive market place. In 2006 only one service was left for us and that was first class service. We have competition with everyone of our other products. We now deliver a huge amount of residential deliveries for UPS and Fed Ex. Fed Ex is our partner. They transport our mail over the country. We work with them and they work with us. We are now required to compete and a lot of our rates are fixed on that. We are mandated to provide a level of service. In the last 10 years the level of service on overnight, second day and three day mail has grown from 50 percent, to 75 percent to 80 percent and last year, on the test pieces, the change in this geographical area, or zip codes 845, 846 and 847 tested by IBM, we are required to pay them to test, for every 100 letters that were processed in this area 97.17 percent of them were delivered overnight. That is phenomenal service, but it comes at a cost. We had to do something to become more efficient so that we do not price ourselves out of the market. Otherwise there would be no postal service at all. Our commitment is to give you alternate accesses for postal services, like USPS.com, stamps by mail, and stamps by phone. For those that are into electronic communication, you can order stamps using your computer.
If someone in the community decides to apply for a Village Post Office. We will provide retail products at that Village Post Office.
The thought of the community providing a structure and putting your Post Office boxes in that structure is good. We then could have our delivery person service that location. That is the simplest solution. We have done this in several other towns.
Mayor Christiansen pointed out that Emery owns the building that now houses the Post Office. The USPS is paying $563 rent a month to the city of Emery.
Barkley said, If you selected the option of leaving the Post Office Boxes in that structure and under the control of the city. That would be revenue lost to the city if you kept the building open as a non-personnel unit. We would not continue to pay that rent. We would not provide retail services there.
Mayor Christiansen then discussed the road to Ferron in the winter and the hardship it would put upon the elderly and others. When they would have to travel the 15 miles to Ferron to get their mail and medicines by mail. She then pointed out that closing these rural Post Offices will not save the USPS very much money as compared to consolidating some of the larger post offices in big cities. We have heard, by closing Post Offices on Saturday you would save $2 billion, whereas if you close 3,652 Post Offices you save 26 million. Rural people pay the same taxes as urban people do. Do not close the rural Post Offices.
Barkley said, Closing the Post Offices on Saturday was one of the strategies discussed last year The major mailers oppose closing Post Offices on Saturday. The mailing industry is worth $2 trillion nationwide. The mailing industry in this country is larger than oil and gas and the mailing industry has great influence with our congressional leaders.
He then said, Now that I know, that Emery owns the Post Office building, that makes the change to be almost seamless. If you want to propose that, we will put it into the packet as our recommendation. Where ever we have done that it has worked out well as far as receiving and collecting the mail. The only obstacle to overcome is where do you get your retail services or from where do you get your postage.
An Emery resident asked, would saving $90,000 by closing the Emery Post Office save the USPS? He then complained about the bureaucratic government and suggested that the Post Office do away with Saturday mail to save money. I think it is ridiculous to take the Post Office away from the community. Causing us to have to drive 30 miles back and forth to Ferron. There are a lot of us that cannot afford it.
Barkley replied, No! Saving $90,000 will not save the USPS. I appreciate your concerns. I could list for you what we have done to stay efficient. We have not hired any employees in more than five years. We have cut down from 790,000 employees. We are now down to 527,000 nationwide and we are going to 400,000. We are doing everything we can to reduce costs. This is our last ditch effort. In the bureaucratic office that I work in there are only a handful left. The reality of this decision is not the bureaucrats in Washington. We are going to do everything we can to make this relevant into generations to come.
An elderly lady from Emery said, I would not be able to drive to Ferron everyday and I realize the Federal Government and the Post Office are two different organizations. She asked, If you put in cluster boxes for street delivery would there be more than one location?
Mr. Barkley's answer: The cluster boxes would be free standing and you would have to give us an easement to put cluster boxes on the property. We would install those cluster boxes. The travel distance between Emery and Ferron is in your favor. Our preference is to have one location as we have now. We would have to put in a proposal and see what gets approved. Regarding the Village Post Office if someone in your community applied for that and we granted that through their application. Then there would be negotiated an amount of compensation, but it would be a minimal amount.
The proposal of going to five day or three day delivery, because of the law we cannot change our delivery. The Postal Service is a business. It is a business of the government and the legislative law dictates the frequency of delivery and our rates. We are working with our legislative representatives to try and amend some of those rules. The five day proposal is before congress now and is being worked on.
The Emery Librarian asked, If we have a Village Post Office, how does the mail get to the Village Post Office and who is going to process the mail into those boxes.
Barkley said, The person that was approved for the Village Post Office would put the mail into the boxes. In some places for example Walmart offers Post Office retail services. Through collective bargaining the Clerical Workers Union fought letting Walmart sell services. Then they saw, that is the future. This is what we are proposing. If you have a retail outlet here that we can put our service in, we will put it in and they can apply for becoming a Village Post Office. As long as they meet the criteria which provides you security for your mail service. We will provide service through that retail outlet.
We have a delivery driver that drops the mail off to Randy in Emery every day and picks it up. This driver lays over for a lay over period of time. That is because there has to be a certain amount of time between the time the mail is delivered in the morning and the mail is picked up in the evening so that it can be processed and the retail services take place. Then the mail is collected and it goes through an extensive network up to Price, Utah. There it is consolidated to a run into the Provo facility. There is time in that drivers contract that he would not just be laying over, he could be delivering your mail to your postal boxes. As you know Emery is at the end of the run.
Another Emery resident asked are they closing post offices in the cities or is it just the little Post Offices, because we do not buy enough? She also asked, why the USPS have four processing locations in Salt Lake City? She then pointed out several residents that did not have computers and could not communicate by computer.
Barkley replied, We have more than 500 processing locations throughout the nation and we are closing 300 of those down. We as a district last month consolidated 25 processing facilities into Boise, Idaho and there are others being reviewed. The volume of mail that is being processed in automated equipment by computer in 5 to 10 to 40 minutes. We just do not have enough mail to run them now. That is the reality.
Even our management now does not mail, or call, they send text messages. We are looking at everything we can to try and save money to work leaner, smarter and faster. We just closed down our airport retail facility at the Salt Lake City airport. They met the same criteria that we are looking at here.
Another Emery resident wanted to know more about the government mandates that are making the USPS unprofitable. He suggested Mr. Barkley's podium should be in a large populated area where he would get more people to come out with their concerns. Mr. Barkley replied, the major portion of my time is on those big dollar opportunities. We have already applied to manage our own health care. Instead of living with the mandate. All facilities are being looked at with regards to profitability, not only in the rural areas, but also in the cities.
This meeting is just one of the strategies that is being looked at. We have the largest retail network in the world, bigger than Walmart and bigger than McDonalds. We cannot continue to support that infrastructure any longer. This is just a starting process to consolidate and to go into new technology. We are consolidating delivery and consolidating jobs. We recently consolidated clerical jobs. We are cutting down. Most of my time is spent reducing staffing not eliminating Post Offices. There is our biggest dollar savings.
An Emery resident was concerned about the increase in traffic at the Ferron Post Office right across the street from the Elementary School and the dangers to the children.
Barkley said, that facility in Ferron was set up to house the boxes that we propose to move there and the community would serve that. Ferron has a large parking lot. Facilities in Salt Lake that do much more are a lot smaller. We would not make that recommendation if we did not have sufficient space. When we locate a Post Office, we work with the community for the location. The town council was in on the selection of the location.
Another resident was concerned about the 40 percent of the population in Emery that are elderly and get their medications though the mail. The 15 miles to Ferron and 15 miles back to Emery in a winter snowstorm could prevent them getting their medications on time. Locating the boxes in Ferron would be a problem.
Barkley replied, that is just one proposal and that is a definite downside to that proposal. He then suggested, as a community these are things that you need to consider. The Mayor and the community should look at the proposals presented and as a community consider which would proposal would best benefit the community. The Village Post Office, since the town owns the building, might be an honorable solution and have the town manage that. That would keep your economic growth where you want it. You could provide retail services through your employees and we would keep the boxes there.
Mayor Mistie pointed out that the town of Emery would lose the rent for the building if they set up a Village Post Office and incur the cost of staffing the Post Office. She also pointed out that if they went to a Village Post Office, this town would have to foot the bill. If we continue to use that Post Office you will have to pay the heat, the lights, insurance and the maintenance of the building. That would be a major increase in your taxes that you do not have to pay now.
Barkley thanked everyone for listening to him, he appreciated the comments, suggestions and questions. Dave Matheson made many notes from the review. There are pros and cons to each of these proposals. You will have to go through them and decide which is best for your town. Once the decision is made it will be posted at your Post Office. Then you will have an appeal process. That is an important process that protects your rights. The US Postal Service is all of us together and we hope we make the best decision for this community and I hope for the Postal Service to remain intact.
Mayor Mistie Christiansen thanked John Barkley and Dave Matheson for coming to Emery, listening to comments, and explaining how the USPS viewed Emery and other similar towns.
She then said, she was disappointed in how this was handled, because she first learned about this process from a newspaper reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. That was before she heard anything from the Postal Service. Randy said he tried to tell me. But an official word from higher up did not arrive until last Saturday. I am disappointed in the whole Postal System for not posting a notification earlier.
Barkley apologized, to the Mayor, for the Postal Service. You were notified as soon as we knew the process was going this far. We are under a rigid time frame. If it seems short because you got rumored by some other source it was exactly that a rumor.