Canyon Dam post office under threat of closure
Prattville residents met Tuesday, Oct. 25, in the local firehall with two representatives from the United States Postal Service (USPS) Operations Program Support Division.
The meeting was a follow-up to the letter of intention and survey sent to local residents advising them that the Canyon Dam post office was currently involved in a closure study.
Manager Richard Burtzlaff and Sacramento Discontinuance Coordinator Sandy Raymond traveled from Sacramento to meet with local residents.
Burtzlaff opened the meeting by providing background on the closure study.
“Let me talk about how we got to this point. Our division operates 471 post offices from the Oregon border to Fresno and from the Sierras to the coast and the postal service, like homes and businesses, is not immune to the economy. We are looking to consolidate 37 offices,” he said.
Burtzlaff said he has been making changes to division operations since 2006.
Included in the changes was the closing of the Marysville plant a year ago last June.
“Technology and newer automation equipment has created greater operational efficiencies,” he said.
The Marysville closure resulted in a loss of 100 local jobs. The mail from that plant is now being processed in the Sacramento plant. Burtzlaff said shutdowns occurred in Stockton as well.
USPS operated at a loss of $10 million over the past two years and is anticipating an $8 million loss for the new fiscal year, according to Burtzlaff.
“We pay out $3.8 billion a month in salaries and benefits to 550,000 employees. In 2004 we had 800,000 employees. The numbers reduced through normal attrition. We are just doing what we can do to be sustainable,” Burtzlaff said.
He said USPS operates 32,000 retail offices but “most transactions don’t happen in brick and mortar post offices, much happens over the Internet.”
He said USPS is in the midst of a financial crisis.
“Where they were looking at things being brighter in 2012 it is likely to be 2015 now before we see a rebound in mail profits. Our debt limit is $15 million and we have hit it,” Burtzlaff said. “The financial picture is bleak but it can change.”
The consolidation process extends beyond the borders of California. In recent years USPS has reduced its total of 750 national processing distribution plants to 500. This year it is looking to further reduce the number of plants to 250.
“Until 2005 we were always a growth company. Today we are constantly looking at how we can do things faster and leaner. We are now down to the post office level,” Burtzlaff said.
He also told residents that USPS currently has two issues before Congress.
He talked about the $5.5 billion a year in employee health benefits the organization is mandated to pay and said, “Had we not had to pay this in advance the last five years we would be in the black.”
He also said USPS is the only organization mandated to make that payment so far in advance.
In the second issue, he said USPS was seeking a civil service retirement system payback from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
He said success on those two fronts would allow USPS to be around for the next 200 years.
“We broke away from the government in 1970 and since that time we have collected no tax dollars. We have been self-sufficient and supported by consumers,” Burtzlaff said.
When questioned why the Canyon Dam post office was selected for the closure study he said, “We are studying 3,700 post offices nationwide, 34 are in this district.”
He said the study would look at money made and money spent, the distance consumers would travel to an access point and whether or not USPS owned or leased the building.
“We do know that you want to keep your post office,” he said.
Raymond next spoke about the study process as a whole and the opportunities for residents to voice their opinions.
“First we will take note of your verbal responses during the meeting. Next we will review the surveys you have completed,” she said.
She said at this point the process would remain a study up until the time the consolidated information is forwarded to national headquarters for a determination.
“At that time, the proposal to close the post office will be posted for 60 days and you have the additional chance to comment.
“Should there be no change to the determination, you will have the choice to speak again by writing to the Postal Regulatory Committee,” she said.
Raymond said residents would be notified by mail when the determination was made.
“The best option for the community is delivery to everyone through a highway contract route carrier,” Burtzlaff said.
Other options offered included clustered mailboxes in residential areas or traveling to the Greenville post office.
When questioned about Greenville, he said, “Greenville is the only option. The 960 ZIP code mail is processed by Redding and the 959 mail is processed by West Sacramento; we can’t mix the two offices.”
When discussion arose about the Westwood post office the same barrier arose: Its 961 ZIP code mail is processed in Reno.
After responding to several questions, Burtzlaff said, “This meeting is also about how we can service you if the post office does close.”
In addition to not wanting to see the local postal service employees lose their jobs, residents also expressed concerns about having to travel to Greenville during the inclement weather months.
One resident said traveling the road between Canyon Dam and Greenville during snowy or icy road conditions was “putting your life at risk to pick up a package or sign for a letter.”
Advocating for the post office, another resident said, “I wouldn’t care if we were able to access the mail less days a week.”
Senior residents were concerned about how they would receive their mailed medication and how those packages would be affected if delivered to a mailbox in freezing weather.
“Our post office is more than mail — it is used as a community information center for storm warnings, fires and other natural disasters,” a resident said.
Another said the post office also served as shelter for the students who are awaiting pickup by the school bus.
Others offered rebuttals to Internet postal business and offered comments about the poor signal strength many experienced while trying to go online.
Lasts, a resident talked about the post office being the hub of the community that linked local consumers to struggling area businesses.
“Our communities have always developed at the crossroads of the highways, much like with the pioneers,” he said.
As a final statement Burtzlaff said, “I understand that you don’t want your post office to close; we have to go through the study process no matter what.”