Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 21, 2014
Stonington Post Office operations to remain unchanged
PO box access to become 24-hour
Stonington resident Connie Homel signs in during a meeting on Tuesday, August 19, at the Stonington Post Office. The meeting discussed the future of the post office, which seems relatively unchanged in the short term.
by Jessica Brophy
The two dozen Stonington residents who turned out to a meeting held at the Stonington Post Office on Tuesday, August 19, about the future of the post office left with heartening news—little will change for the branch at this time.
Mike Mitchell, Acting Manager for Post Office Relations and Postmaster for Bangor, gave a presentation to those gathered at the post office. The presentation outlined the financial woes of the United States Postal Service, and outlined some of the measures taken to reduce costs.
Mitchell said the USPS often serves as a bellwether to the larger economy, foretelling a recession and also a recovery. After the latest recession, however, the USPS did not “bounce back.” Instead, first class mail volume flattened after a 25-percent decrease during the recession.
That decline, coupled with a mandate from Congress to pre-fund the USPS retiree healthcare costs for 75 years, has left the USPS broke, or very close to it. Those pre-funding payments total $5.5 billion per year, on top of what Mitchell called an overpayment to its retirement fund by the USPS of a few billion dollars.
The USPS is fully supported by the revenue from its own services, said Mitchell, but with these financial stressors has teetered on the edge of insolvency. However, because it is a quasi-governmental agency, it cannot declare bankruptcy or go through traditional channels of reorganization. The USPS has many mandates, said Mitchell.
Those mandates and regulations mean that without Congressional action, many revenue-generating ideas are off the table, such as offering other services and goods at post offices, or stopping Saturday delivery.
As revenue generation isn’t a viable option, the USPS then turned to cost-cutting measures. These include partnering with “the enemy,” as Mitchell said—FedEx and UPS. The USPS is also working on an exclusive contract with Amazon for same-day shipping in urban areas.
Over the past five years, the USPS has reduced the number of employees by more than 200,000, all through attrition. The USPS has also “flattened its [administrative] structure” and consolidated many processing plants and district offices. The organization is currently working on its Post Plan, which involves reducing service window hours at many of the 13,000 smallest post offices. Of Maine’s post offices, nearly two-thirds fall into this category.
Post offices are put into two-, four-, six-hour or full time eight-hour categories, based on the amount of retail and mail volume at each post office. Stonington is in the six-hour retail window category. As Stonington’s hours are already six hours—from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.—there would be no reduction in hours. Saturday hours will continue from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Mitchell said that typically a six-hour schedule is from 9 a.m. to noon, then 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. The residents present said they would prefer to keep the schedule as-is, with the general comment of, “everyone is used to it.”
One thing that will be changing is a transition to 24-hour post office box access. While some present expressed approval at the increase in convenience, others said they were worried about security. Several asked about surveillance, and other security measures. Mitchell declined to speak to security measures, but did note that many other Maine post offices had transitioned to 24-hour box access without problem.
Mitchell expects the transition to a 24-hour box access to occur sometime before January 9, 2015, and possibly sooner.
There were some questions from those present, particularly about what might happen longer-term, as the USPS is still struggling financially. Mitchell said he is unsure, and that the USPS will continue to evaluate its options for cutting costs.
“It seems to me that the postal service is bankrupt in all classical senses, but it can’t reorganize,” said Peter Nitze. “I’m not all that optimistic.”