Gretna gears up to save the post office, again

July 30, 2013

For nearly 70 years, the people in Gretna, Louisiana, did their postal business at a beautiful post office built in 1936.  It had a New Deal mural entitled “Steamboats on the Mississippi,” painted by Stuart R. Purser in 1939.

In 2003 the Postal Service announced that it wanted to close the post office and sell the building.  The city of Gretna responded.  It bought the historic building (which is now being renovated), and offered to convert an old train depot, just a block away, into a post office.  According to nola.com, renovations of the station were done using $100,000 in city and state money.  Then the city gave the Postal Service a sweet deal — $11,000 a year for the 900-square-foot space.

So for the past ten years, downtown Gretna has enjoyed having a small post office in a historic train station.  It’s been a boon to businesses, given new life to the old station, and served an important social and economic role in Gretna.  All the work elected officials did to keep a post office downtown paid off.  They even saved the mural and had it moved over to the new post office.

Now the Postal Service wants to close the railroad station post office.  The savings will just be the small amount of rent and the salary of one postal worker, but somehow the Postal Service estimates a ten-year savings of $729,000, even though that employee will just be transferred to the main office in Gretna.

Customers say it’s always busy at the post office, and city officials say closing it would not just be a loss to the community.  “It’s critical to business and government,” says the mayor.

The Postal Service began taking steps to close the office in early 2012, and there was a rally to stop it.  For some reason, the Postal Service backed off.

Now the Postal Service is picking up where it left off, and city officials are gearing up for another fight.  The Parish Council passed a resolution opposing a closure, and residents have been urged to share their views with the Postal Service.

Gretna saved the post office in 2003 and again in 2012.  It’s going to be tough winning round three.

(Photo credits: "Steamboats on the Mississippi" muralGretna, LA RR station post office; Gretna's old New Deal post office)

Postal Service reduces hours at post office, then cites declining revenue to close it

July 29, 2013

The rationales offered by the Postal Service when it wants to close a post offices are often not very rational, but what’s happening in East Irvine, California, is a good example of just how irrational the logic of postal management can get.

In 2011, when thousands of post offices were being reviewed for closure, the Postal Service often cited a decline in annual revenues over the previous years as one reason to close the post office.  Considering that the Recession had begun in 2008, it was not surprising that revenues were falling, but that didn’t stop the Postal Service from considering the decline as a valid justification for closing a post office.

The story in East Irvine is a little more frustrating for customers to understand. 

In 2009, the Postal Service wanted to close their post office, but local historians and residents protested.  The post office is housed in a historic 1890 building, which the Postal Service has leased since 1990, and people loved going there for a taste of history.

As a compromise, the Postal Service agreed to keep the office open, but at reduced hours.  It’s been open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, with no Saturday hours. 

Now the Postal Service is studying the East Irvine post office for discontinuance.  The reason cited?  "A steady lack of revenue and/or volume."

Rolland Graham, President of Mountain Outin' Tour Company, is a regular customer of the East Irvine office.  "This is the third time we've had to go through this," Graham told the Orange County Register. "It's very frustrating because we can't do any planning." 

The lack of revenue and volume at the facility, Graham said, is a result of a reduction in hours there, part of the compromise reached the last time it was facing the possibility of closure.

Last week Postal Service held the public meeting required by the discontinuance regulations, and now it’s waiting for customers to return a survey.  The outcome is not much in doubt. 

The owner of the building has already put the property on the market.  The listing says the lease ends next July.  The post office will be probably be closed long before then.

Image credit: East Irving post office, on Google Street Views

No end in Climax: The temporary suspension of the post office goes on and on

July 27, 2013

The owner of the building that formerly housed the post office in Climax, Georgia, has asked the Postal Regulatory Commission to do something about the de facto closing of the post office last year.  Morgan Wolaver, the landlord, has submitted an extensive Memorandum to the PRC arguing that the Postal Service illegally closed the post office and that the Commission should review the case.

Mr. Wolaver is the president of the  Association of United States Postal Lessors (AUSPL), the country’s largest association of postal lessors, and his family has been in the business of owning post offices for five decades.  As his Memorandum to the PRC shows, Mr. Wolaver is not happy about what happened in Climax, and for good reason.

The post office in Climax was on the POStPlan list, set to be reduced to six hours a day.  Last July, the postmaster took the retirement incentive, which created a vacancy, which triggered a POStPlan review.  On September 28, 2012, Climax residents and city officials received the survey about the four POStPlan options, as well as a letter saying there would be a meeting with the Postal Service on November 8th. 

Then in mid October, everyone got a second letter from the Postal Service saying the post office would close at the end of the month.  The Postal Service said that negotiations with the landord to renew the lease had broken down, so the office was closing for an emergency suspension.

Mr. Wolaver disputed the Postal Service’s story and explained that the negotiations were underway and the two sides weren’t very far apart, just 25 cents a square foot, as a matter of fact, but then in September he received notice from the Postal Service that they weren’t interested in renewing the lease and that they would be opening a Village Post Office in Climax.

The post office closed, Mr. Wolaver appealed to the PRC, and in April of this year, the Commission dismissed the case as “premature” because the Postal Service had not yet gone through a discontinuance review and had not yet issued a Final Determination to close the office completely.

It’s been over three months since the Commission issued its order dismissing the case, and nearly nine months since the post office was closed.  The Postal Service has yet to complete the discontinuance study and to issue a final determination.  There's no indication that the Postal Service will ever reopen a post office in Climax, in Mr. Wolaver's building or anywhere else, but it has never gone through the closing procedure required by law.

Mr. Wolaver’s Memorandum to the PRC is extremely thorough.  It runs to nearly 30 pages with all the exhibits, and a good portion of it was written by the law firm of Ford & Huff, the same firm that has been hired by the National Post Office Collaborate to fight the sale of historic post offices in Berkeley, the Bronx, and elsewhere.

The Memorandum to the Commission paints a devastating picture of the Postal Service's actions regarding the Climax post office.  This passage sums things up rather nicely:

“The most charitable view which can be taken regarding the Postal Service’s actions in Climax, and the notices given by the Postal Service, is that they are the result of the botched execution of contradictory plans; a more studied review indicates misdirection in the execution of a predetermined plan to close the Climax Post Office, and reduce postal services, while preventing any meaningful input from the community or this Honorable Commission.”

The language of the Memorandum and the fact that Ford & Huff been retained suggests that while Mr. Wolaver is looking for action from the PRC, he’s prepared to go to court if necessary.  Given the PRC’s track record on dismissing appeals, a courtroom is probably where things will end up.


Image credits: Former Climax post office.

Previous posts on Climax:
 

The Greeting Card Association greets us with its proposals for saving the Postal Service

July 21 2013

The Greeting Card Association (GCA) has produced a long report describing what it calls "commonsense solutions" to put the Postal Service on "a path to solvency."  It includes more than 100 deficit reduction proposals.

The main one is simple: "The Postal Service should immediately implement cluster boxes on a widespread national scale using its existing management authority to do so, and drop politically divisive plans for Congress to end Saturday mail delivery."  

The report suggests that ending Saturday delivery is highly unpopular, while replacing delivery to the door or curb with cluster boxes would be fine with most customers.  

That's a highly dubious proposition.  The Postal Service has generally resisted mass conversions to cluster boxes, especially for existing customers, because it knows they will anger customers, and it's been pushing five-day delivery in the belief that customers prefer it to other ways for saving money or to raising rates.  When the OIG did a report on the cost savings of switching modes of delivery, the Postal Service responded, "when surveyed, our customers indicated that they would rather lose a day of delivery service than have their mailbox moved from a door or curbside locations to a centralized delivery.”

The GCA's proposals are often contradictory, and there are many numbers mentioned without a citation to check them.  For example, the report says, "The cost of modifying the Postal Service’s original proposal [to end Saturday delivery] was to add back $500 million to Saturday delivery costs for packages and medicines."  There's no source cited for this figure.  The Postal Service, to our knowledge, has never provided such an estimate, nor has the Postal Regulatory Commission, the agency which has done the most work on analyzing cost savings for ending Saturday delivery.

The GCA suggests that selling the Postal Service's real estate portfolio — valued at $85 billion by the OIG — would be a viable way to cover the remaining obligation ($46 billion) in the Retiree Health Benefit Fund.  There's no discussion, however, of how much it would cost to replace these facilities with leased spaces.  Over the long run, leasing usually costs more than owning, so what good would it do to sell off all this real estate?  

The report makes some good proposals for putting the excess space in post offices to better use, such as leasing out the extra space to other government agencies and using post offices as "centers of continuous democracy" and to help people interface with other federal agencies.  But such ideas are not exactly consistent with the proposal to sell off the Postal Service's real estate holdings.

Despite its problems, the GCA's report is worth reading.  If nothing else, it shows how self-serving each stakeholder's solution for rescuing the Postal Service can be.  Read the report.

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