DOLLIVER - Two postal employees look across a sea of faces - if you could call 38 a mini sea - and deciding they're friendly, they begin.
Dolliver is one of a number of local rural post offices slated for closure over the coming year, and Monday night Dolliver residents had their chance to say their piece about plans to close their post office, their meeting place, the place where they gather to meet their friends.
Sara Lindauer, herself postmaster of a rural post office - Bayard - and Rory Sullivan, post office operations manager of the 504 and 505 Zip Code areas, had the unenviable task of telling how a community icon would be shut down - and in the not-too-distant future.
Nearly 40 people turned out for a public meeting at Dolliver City Hall on the proposed closing of the Dolliver Post Office.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
"It's very difficult to do this," said Lindauer.
However, as they say, the facts speak for themselves. With competition from the Internet and letter writing a lost art, the U.S. Postal Service is losing $33 million daily, said Lindauer. First-class mail volume has plummeted by half over the last 10 years - 30 percent over the last four years alone - all attributable to changes in how we communicate.
"America is changing the way it's communicating and we're desperately trying to respond to that," Lindauer said, adding that the Postal Service had cut $12 billion in costs the last four years, cuts that started at the top and ran all the way down to eliminating mail routes. She said they're also looking at closing mail processing facilities and discontinuing big retail stations.
Lindauer said the Postal Service is also asking Congress for help by amending current law that requires prefunding the employee retirement fund 75 years in advance. They're also requesting return of $6.9 billion overpaid into the federal retirement system. And they're also trying to get authorization to delete the frequency of delivery - Saturday is the day most often mentioned. They would also like to have a new retirement plan for new hires.
Acknowledging that 8 million Americans directly rely on the Postal Service for employment in some form - a $1-trillion yearly contribution to the nation's economy - she said those jobs need to continue.
In the interest of streamlining, Lindauer said the Postal Service is looking at closing 3,700 offices in the current wave, and up to 15,000 eventually.
She said Postal Service headquarters came up with the list.
Outlining the 138-day process for closure, Lindauer said first information is gathered, including public comments and concerns which are added to the proposal which is sent to the vice president of delivery operations for a determination. Customers get 30 days to write to the Postal Regulation Commission - separate from the Postal Service. If there are no appeals, a discontinue date is set with a 30-day notice.
Lindauer said the proposal is to provide service through rural carrier from Ringsted. Delivery would be made to cluster box units (CBUs). Customers would have their own keys and there would be parcel lockers or a carrier could deliver to the home. If the customer was not home, another option would be to leave parcels in a secure area if the customer gives permission. Or the carrier might leave a notice of attempted delivery.
Lindauer said a village post office concept which would coordinate postal services between the Postal Service and an existing business was not a viable option for Dolliver.
"We understand it's not going to be as convenient," Lindauer acknowledged.
She said patrons could send packages with rural carriers, and they would not have to be present when sending packages under 13 ounces.
Post office box numbers would change to physical addresses and people would be able to access their mail at any time, she said.
"Our workload is going away so we're going to have to right-size ourselves," Sullivan said. "We need to change or we're not going to be able to sustain the Postal Service."
"What we're proposing is just changing the way we service your community," said Sullivan. "We're simply here gathering the data for them at this point."
In the question-and-answer session that followed, Lindauer and Sullivan noted a number of points:
n "Without bulk business mail, we wouldn't be able to survive," Sullivan said.
n Postal patrons have the option of opening a post office box wherever they want.
n Rural addresses would remain the same.