Post offices on chopping block

John Christensen
The Dresden Post Office

The United States Postal Service is examining 16,000 of its over 38,000 post offices to select 2,000 for closure. Because of the extreme decline in personal mail use in recent years, the cost of maintaining all those branches has taken a considerable bite of the service’s bottom line, according to Western New York District Communications DirectorKaren Mazurkiewicz, of the U.S. Postal Service.

What does that mean for the small post offices in our area? Not much — yet.

Title 39, the set of laws governing the USPS, prevents the Postmaster General from closing post offices or eliminating zip codes solely for economic reasons. Being so vital to the identity of a village or hamlet as well as its connection to the rest of the world, the USPS is obliged to maintain these outlying branches however little mail they may actually process.

The offices that are on the chopping block right now are in cities with multiple post offices in single zip codes. For example, the city of Elmira has three locations within a 1.5 mile radius. At least one of these offices will be closed in the near future. But that does not mean that places like Himrod, Bellona, Rock Stream, or Branchport are free and clear.

The USPS has petitioned Congress for changes to Title 39, making it legal to close under-utilized and unprofitable locations. The desire is to reduce not only the personnel costs for all the postmasters and clerks in those offices, but the cost of maintaining the “bricks and mortar” of the buildings themselves. There would also be the added cash influx from the sale of the properties.

According to  Mazurkiewicz, this change is likely to come about, but like most legislation, not quickly. She added, “We don’t want to be less for our customers, but we may have to be different.” One of the possibilities for maintaining service would be to contract with some local business to provide postal services, without being postal employees per se.

Another significant change to Title 39 would be to eliminate Saturday deliveries, reducing carrier costs by over 16 percent.

It was about 100 years ago when the Post Office stopped Sunday deliveries. “We surveyed customers and received strong support for this option as a cost-saving measure, versus other reductions,” said Mazurkiewicz.