USPS delivers bad news

19 post offices in county face big cuts in hours in coming months

COPAKE FALLS—The post office in this hamlet will be one of 19 in Columbia County to have its hours cut in an effort to stem the hemorrhage of money the United States Postal Service loses daily.

When the USPS first revealed a plan to close between 7,000 and 10,000 post offices across the country “people were not happy,” Manager of Post Office Operations Neal Fitzpatrick told a group of 17 residents who gathered at the Town Hall March 8 to find out what is in store for their post office.

Told by “the powers that be” that the closure plan was “not acceptable,” postal officials instead decided not to close any post offices but to cut back their hours in many rural areas, Mr. Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a community identity issue. In remote areas there are not a lot of services; people still depend on the post office.”

In an effort to get community input on the plan to cut staffed hours at the Copake Falls Post Office from eight to four hours, the postal service conducted a meeting here in January and several months ago sent out a survey to 241 post office box patrons. One hundred two of the surveys were returned and 95% of the respondents said they supported the realignment of hours, choosing 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. as the hours they preferred to have someone behind the counter. The post office lobby will remain open at least eight hours a day, so box holders can still get their mail. To make that possible, modifications to the post office interior will be made to install security measures such as a metal grate to block access to the counter and behind it and electronic locks that will automatically lock the exterior door at pre-set times. Patrons who inadvertently find themselves caught inside when the door locks can push an interior button to escape.

Parcel lockers will also be installed, so people who receive an item that is too big to fit in their box can still get it in their locker. Arrangements can be made for patrons to pickup items that are too big for the locker at a time when the post office is staffed.

Mr. Fitzpatrick pointed out that the nearby Copake and Hillsdale post offices will still be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so people could go there for counter service in a pinch. Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer took exception to Mr. Fitzpatrick’s assertion and said he was misleading people, because both of those post offices are closed during the day for lunch.

Others in the audience had security concerns: that transients would commit crimes or loiter inside the post office when it is open but unattended. Dick Barton who owns the post office building, which has an upstairs apartment, did not think it was safe to have the post office open but unmanned.

A woman in the audience suggested the postal service install a security camera.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said the post office is “not a big keeper of cash or sellable items” that someone might steal. Video cameras can be expensive, he said, and not solve the problem, though they can help after the fact.

Asked about post office news on the national front, Mr. Fitzpatrick said the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed by Congress in 2006 required the postal service to prepay employee retirement healthcare benefits “80 years out” so “the government does not get stuck with the bill.” The $60 billion cost must be paid in 10 years at $5.5 billion/year. No other company has to carry such a burden, “only us,” he said.

Owing to the increasing use of email and online bill payment, over the last six years the post office has had to deal with a rapid dissipation of first class mail. The post office has gone from handling 229 billion pieces of mail annually in 2007 to a projected 165 billion pieces this year for a $24 billion loss.

The reduction in staffed hours at post offices will save about $500 million annually, while post office expenses amount to $2.5 billion every two weeks for its 30,000 facilities. The plan to go from 6-day mail delivery to 5-day will save $2.5 billion/year, Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

“Congress could make this right, couldn’t it?” asked Copake Councilperson Jeanne Mettler.

“The post office is not a big issue for them,” said Mr. Fitzpatrick, adding that Congress could “give us more time to pay” those retirement costs. So far the post office has paid $29 billion into the retirement fund. “Without that payment we could have shown a profit,” he said. To make matters worse, Mr. Fitzpatrick said studies done by the General Accountability Office have found that the postal service has overpaid the fund by $11 billion. Though the postal service has asked for a refund so that money might be used toward expenses, postal officials have been told by the government that the overpayment is really only $3 billion “and you’re not getting any of it back anyway,” said Mr. Fitzpatrick, adding, “We probably should have hired better accountants to begin with.”

Every penny that the price of gas goes up costs the postal service $8 million, he said, the post office spends $800 million for gas annually and does not pass the fuel surcharge onto customers like UPS and FedEx do.

Asked if the Copake Falls post office is self-sustaining, Mr. Fitzpatrick said it “might be a little short.” He said only 10% of post offices actually make money and they support the other 90%.

Residents were also concerned about what will happen to the clerk who currently serves them at their post office. Will he be able to pick up another four hours a day at another nearby post office? Mr. Fitzpatrick said an effort will be made to make that happen and noted for all its fiscal ailments, the postal service “has never laid off a single person.”

As for the future, Mr. Fitzpatrick said expectations are that mail volume will level off at some point between 140 billion and 150 billion pieces. Major mailers such as banks will be sending out fewer monthly statements and Netflix will eventually get out of the hard disk business. Both have given the post office mailing projections reflecting that. He said the post office hopes to work with Amazon on parcel post delivery that expands the concept of sending orders out by mail on the same day they are received and has set up a warehouse in Delaware for that purpose.

With about 100 post office projects in the Westchester District alone that require building modifications ahead of Copake Falls, Mr. Fitzpatrick said residents should expect the reduced hours schedule to take effect in about 90 days.

To contact Diane Valden email .

Check the door for new hours

THE FOLLOWING POST OFFICES in Columbia County will have their hours reduced from eight hours/day to the number indicated. The undated, 260-page list at http://about.usps.com/news/electronic-press-kits/our-future-network/assets/pdf/postplan-affected-post-offices-120509.pdf has this notation: This is a preliminary list that requires additional review, analysis, and verification, and is subject to change:

12017 Austerlitz 4 hours, 12024 Brainard 2 hours, 12029 Canaan 6 hours, 12050 Columbiaville 4 hours, 12115 Malden Bridge 4 hours, 12132 North Chatham 4 hours, 12136 Old Chatham 6 hours, 12165 Spencertown 6 hours, 12172 Stottville 6 hours, 12173 Stuyvesant 6 hours, 12174 Stuyvesant Falls 4 hours, 12195 West Lebanon 4 hours, 12502 Ancram 6 hours, 12503 Ancramdale 6 hours, 12517 Copake Falls 4 hours, 12523 Elizaville 6 hours, 12530 Hollowville 2 hours, 12541 Livingston 6 hours and 12544 Mellenville 4 hours.

 

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