Thursday, October 20, 2011

Newton County slated to lose 60% of its post offices

It's been nearly two weeks since we've had a post about post offices, so I figure Legal Ruralism is overdue for one. This attention to impending post office closures is especially timely, of course, because the federal government in late July issued the list of 3,700 proposed post office closures, and we are now nearly three months into the six-month period during which the post office is soliciting comments to "convince" postal officials to remove a given post office from the list of proposed closures. I gather that this process of seeking input is fairly systematic and essentially orchestrated by the U.S. Postal Service.

Newton County, Arkansas, my home county, stands to lose more than half of its 10 post offices. The only "safe" post offices according to an August 3 story in the Newton County Times are Jasper, Deer, Western Grove and Marble Falls. The other six county post offices are included in the proposed closures: Mt. Judea, Parthenon, Ponca, Hasty, Vendor, and Compton. Also slated for closure are two other post offices in neighboring counties but which are very close to the Newton County line and serve Newton County residents. These are the post offices at Pettigrew, in Madison County, and at Pelsor in Pope County.

Subsequent editions of the Newton County newspaper report on meetings in each of the communities that stands to lose its post office. These meetings appear to be convened by the U.S. Postal Service, which sends a representative to each. For example, the September 28, 2011, issue of the Newton County Times reports on a Sept. 20 meeting at the Lurton Assembly of God Church regarding the proposed post office closure at Pelsor. (Lurton is in Newton County, but Pelsor, as noted above, is in Pope County). The paper reports that 55 postal customers, "many of them seniors," attended the meeting, which was facilitated by Diane Tindle from the Fayetteville Post Office. The paper notes that she has worked with the postal service for more than 25 years.

The story quotes Tindle:
What we are looking at are 28 P.O. box customers in Pelsor being moved to Dover which is 28 miles. The potential savings for the postal service for the first year would be over $60,000 and the savings over 10 years would be over $695,000.
Based on what I have read in other sources, I assume that the greatest portion of the savings would be from the post master's salary. The story continues:
Tindle emphasized to those attending that they should write their comments on the Postal Service Customer Questionnaire she handed out to everyone in attendance. She believes community involvement will go a long way in helping keep its post office. An idea she has heard in other locations is cutting service hours. Having service a few hours a week is better than none she agreed. She indicated that those reviewing the comments would be looking for unique reasons why the post office in question should be closed.
Patrons at the meeting noted that the post office in Deer, which is not slated for closure, is closer to them than the one in Dover, so that it would make more sense for their mail to be directed to Deer. They also noted that calling Dover is a long-distance phone call, while calling Deer is not. Those in attendance also noted that few of them have Internet access and that their cell phone access is "spotty at best." Thus, they argued, "mail is their primary source for communication." The customers pointed out that delivery of local newspapers and other periodicals would be delayed if their post office is closed, making it difficult for them to receive important information in a timely manner.

With just 28 P.O. Box customers at Pelsor, I am guessing that resisting the closure of this post office is a losing battle. As far as I know, no small store or other business could accommodate a post office concession there. On the other hand, 28 miles to Dover is a long way to go to get one's mail on a given day--and very expensive. Oddly, the story mentions nothing about rural free delivery (RFD), where a mail carrier brings mail to a resident's mailbox, at his/her home. Are there no residents in the Pelsor/Lurton area receiving mail by RFD? That is how my mother, who lives just a mile outside Jasper, the county seat, still receives her mail. It strikes me that as inconvenient as it would be to have to drive much farther to mail a letter or package, if these rural residents could receive their mail daily by RFD, at least some of the anxiety that has arisen from the proposed closures would be diminished.

Finally, I find it interesting that the community meeting was held in a church, no doubt because it was the only local place with room to accommodate the event.


KevinN said...

Perhaps the federal government could offer some alternatives to rural places that are going to lose their post offices. The RFD that you mentioned would be a good start, but perhaps there is some way that the government can sponsor internet access for people losing their mail delivery. This would at least enable those people to stay connected even if it does not solve the problem of receiving physical mail. Perhaps some combination of weekly RFD along with free or reduced cost internet access could solve many of the problems associated with losing a post office. However, if the infrastructure is simply not in place to allow these people internet access (which sounds like it may be the case if they have trouble getting cell phone signals), this might not be a viable option to begin with.

ScottA. said...

I just have a hard time believing that there is no store, gas station, or bar located close to these towns that can fill in as a part-time post office.

My grandmother is a retired postmaster (she started when it was still appropriate to call a female postmaster a postmistress) who oversaw post offices in rural Del Notre and Trinity counties in Northern California. Many of the original offices were located in old country stores where people still came to get food everyday. Even older post offices were located in saloons.

It seems that it would be the same level of inconvenience to the customers to travel to the nearest local store or bar as it was to travel to their post office.

I just get the feeling that the USPS hasn't put as much effort in finding viable alternatives as they claim to have done.

Bob in Parthenon, AR said...

The real issue here is a 2006 law, passed as the Postal Service moved the most mail ever despite being well into the Internet Age. The 2006 law requires the USPS to front-fund 75 years of projected retirement claims in just 10 years. Those moneys are put into the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) where they are to be used to pay claims of other federal agencies as well. In effect, it is using postal receipts as an indirect tax to pay federal retirement claims. The truly sad part of this story is how miniscule are savings to the USPS budget by closing 3,700 post offices nationwide: less than 0.3 of 1%, that's right, three-tenths of 1 percent. The political ramifications of this hard-nosed parsimony are uncertain. The closures will result in maybe a million interested, affected individuals, some of whom will be unemployed and then will have time to volunteer during the 2012 presidential campaign. Will they work for the Republicans, the Tea Party candidates, or the Democrats? We shall see....