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The North Bend Eagle


 

Save the Morse Bluff Post Office
Signs like this one in front of the Morse Bluff Post Office line the streets in Morse Bluff.

Future of Morse Bluff Post Office uncertain

by Nathan Arneal
Published 10/19/11

 

Click here to read a letter from the Save the Morse Bluff Post Office committee defending its post office (pdf).

About 125 people packed the Morse Bluff Legion Hall Monday evening [Oct. 17, 2011] to learn more about the future of the post office in this village of 135.

On Sept. 30, the Morse Bluff Post Office gave official notice that it is being studied for possible closure by the U.S. Postal Service.

Monday evening, Morse Bluff citizens gathered to hear and ask questions of Dawn Bayer, a post office operations manager based in Lincoln.

The first thing she stressed is that a determination on closing the Morse Bluff Post Office has not been made.

“I hope when you came here tonight you didn’t think (closing) was a done deal,” Bayer said. “There is a process and you have appeal rights.”

Save the Morse Bluff Post Office for Santa.
A young Morse Bluff resident, 5-year-old Alaina Stephenson, expresses her concern at Monday's meeting.

The study that started Sept. 30 will last for 60 days. During that time a docket of information will be assembled that will include results of a survey mailed to everyone in Morse Bluff. Bayer said the U.S. Postal Service wants to hear all the concerns and hardships closing the local office may cause. Anyone can include any evidence or testimony they wish in the docket by Dec. 1. Then the docket gets sent to Bayer and eventually ends up at the USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., where the decision to maintain or close the Morse Bluff Post Office will be made.

That decision is expected to be handed down in January. If the decision is made to close the local post office, any citizen or group may appeal the decision within 30 days.

If an appeal is filed, the docket of information will be passed to the Postal Regulatory Commission, who then has up to 120 days to review the situation. The Commission’s decision will be final.

“If they say ‘No, we’re not going to close you,’ then it’s business as usual,” Bayer said. “If they say, ‘Yes, we’re going to close you,’ they will post it at the post office and in 60 days you will be closed.”

Morse Bluff is a candidate for closing, Bayer said, because of its reduced work load and reduction of customer demand. On average, it takes 0.37 hours per day to sort the mail in Morse Bluff. Another 0.36 hours is spent on retail work load, such as selling stamps and other products.

The Morse Bluff postmaster works 42 hours a week, but averages just two customers per hour.

If the Morse Bluff Post Office is closed, the village would be served by a rural mail carrier route, just like out-of-town residents.

Mail boxes would be grouped in several locations throughout town, positioned to give customers less than a two-block walk to their mail box.

The rural mail carrier would serve as a “post office on wheels,” offering services formerly provided by the local post office, such as selling stamps and money orders.
Current rural customers outside of Morse Bluff would not see a change in their service if the post office were to close.

Morse Bluff resident Noelle Hruza said she is concerned about handicap or elderly people being able to retrieve their mail from the clusters of mail boxes.

“This scares me,” Hruza said. “I probably mail more letters at the post office than some of the businesses do because I have no computer.”

Bayer said that if anyone is unable to access their mailbox because of health reasons, they can file a hardship application to have the mail delivered to their door.
If a post officer were to close, its postmaster would be moved to another post office to replace a retiring worker. This way, no one is laid off, yet the total number of USPS workers is still reduced.

Bayer said 80 percent of the USPS’s costs go to its employees, and the reason the USPS must reduce costs is a simple one.

“Mostly because we’re broke and we’re only getting broker,” Bayer said.

Federal regulations prohibit the Postal Service from making a profit. It also is prohibited from receiving any tax dollars. It also cannot raise the price of stamps higher than the rate of inflation. It must survive on the money it makes, and since Sept. 11, 2001, it hasn’t been making enough money to support itself, the anthrax-by-mail scare at that time being partly to blame.

“After the anthrax scare, not only were you not using us to mail things, you were afraid to receive things,” Bayer said. “So we started losing revenue and volume in droves. We could not recover and we still haven’t recovered.”

The USPS has seen mail volume drop yearly since 1991. In 2011 alone, mail volume has dropped 25 percent.

“The internet came along and we just can’t compete,” Bayer said. “We know you aren’t coming back. So we’re trying to do some things internally to save our company, and the discontinuance study is part of that.”

To add to the financial woes of the USPS, in 2007 the federal government mandated that the Postal Service must pay $5.6 billion per year into a retirement prefund that is supposed to fund employee retirement for the next 75 years. It is the only government agency required to do so.

As of Sept. 30, the USPS has lost $10.5 billion this year, which had to be covered by a government loan. Since regulations cap the amount of money the USPS can borrow at $15 billion, it cannot make its required $5.6 billion retirement prefund payment. President Obama gave the USPS 90 days to make the payment, Bayer said, and the USPS is trying to work with Congress to get out of the payment, but little progress is being made.

“I don’t know how we’re going to make that payment,” Bayer said. “If we have to make the payment we’ll be broke by the end of October. If we don’t have to make the payment, we’ll probably be completely broke and not able to meet payroll by July or August of 2012.”

A person in the audience asked why the Postal Service didn’t get in on the bailout money passed out to certain auto makers.

“We didn’t get on the bandwagon for a bailout because we don’t need a bailout,” Bayer said. “What we need is to not pay this prefunding for retirement. That’s a mandated law to prefund retirement 75 years in advance. It sounds silly and it is silly, but it’s $5.6 billion a year since 2007, and it’s killing us. This preretirement fund is paying for retirees who aren’t even born yet.”

Jerrine Racek, a resident of rural Morse Bluff, said she thinks that closing more post offices will only drive more people to use the internet to meet their communication needs as a trip to the post office becomes more inconvenient.

“It just seems to me that the Postal Service is headed for certain demise,” she said, “especially by getting rid of all the small post offices. They are really chasing customers away in my mind.”

Jean Roemer, a retired postmaster from West Point and Scribner, now serves as an advocate for small posts offices being studied for closure. She stressed the importance of Morse Bluff residents contributing their thoughts to the docket that will be passed on to USPS headquarters.

“The docket is an absolute important document,” Roemer said. “It’s the only thing that is going to speak for you going forward... You need to get as much pro-community, anti-closing information in there as you can.”

The docket will also be displayed at the Morse Bluff Post Office.

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