Buckeye Postal customers rally to keep 'Cadillac service'
USPS rep talks Blackberry, Twitter to rural crowd
In an area where blackberries are for making jam and birds tweet and twitter, Manager of Post Office Operations Bill Akers did little at Wednesday night's meeting to convince the loyal customers of the Buckeye Post Office that small office closings are a good idea.
Social networking, through the use of Blackberries, Twitter, email and Facebook; online banking and business closures have reduced the postal service's revenue in the past few years, Akers told the group.
If Akers was looking for understanding, he was at the wrong place.
Buckeye has no cell phone service, and a large percentage of the post office customers are senior citizens who mail utility payments, letters and cards for all occasions, and want a paper bank statement in their hands.
"There is declining office workload, which may indicate that maintaining this facility is not warranted," Akers said.
Social networking may dominate in urban areas, but the United States Postal Service is closing 3,700 small post offices, mostly in rural areas where residents depend on the increasingly sporadic service of that organization.
Akers acknowledged that the postal service corresponds with its employees by email and uses direct deposit for payroll checks.ﾠ Although the USPS will provide paper checks to employees who request them.
Bland County, Virginia, is served by only four post offices, which may soon become three, Akers told the group.
But Akers was unable to tell the group how many post offices were in Pocahontas County.
As to who makes the decision about closings, Akers said, "It's me, the district manager and the guy in D. C."
Akers gave the group three options for alternative service - Marlinton, Hillsboro and the possibility of a Village Post Office at the Buckeye Country Mart.
Although he served up the Village Post Office alternative on several occasions, recently published articles question that option's viability.
In a November 2 article on the Reuters website titled "USPS revising plan for "Village Post Offices," Cezary Podkul and Emily Stephenson report that "The financially troubled U. S. Postal Service has determined that its plan to replace money-losing offices with retailers contracted to offer basic services will not work in many rural communities.ﾠ The agency set an eventual goal of 2,000 "Village Post Offices," but it has fewer than 10 fully operating. It is now looking at ways to operate some rural post offices more cheaply rather than closing them."
Akers' referenceﾠ to the effects of business closures was far removed from this community, as well.
"The recession hurt us," Akers said.ﾠ "Post Office revenue goes hand-in-hand with business.ﾠ They do well - we do well.ﾠ They don't - we don't."
Businesses have increased to 50 in the Buckeye postal area and include Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Marlinton Middle School, the West Virginia State Police Detachment, as well as attorney, physician and insurance offices.
"From what I gather, business is growing," said Buckeye resident Blix McNeill.ﾠ "So you are closing down an area that is growing."
Small post offices have long been considered a central part of a community's health.
McNeill, who works in Green Bank, went on to tell Akers how the closure of Buckeye would affect him.
"I cannot buy a stamp at Marlinton because the windows are not open," he said.ﾠ "That's around eight o'clock in the morning.ﾠ They're in there, but they are not open to provide a service.ﾠ
"I can get it at Buckeye," he said.
"What you have in Buckeye is Cadillac service," Akers said. "It really is.ﾠ The post office does more than deliver the mail."
In response to some questions, Akers advised the group to call the Marlinton Post Office.
A discussion following the meeting unveiled the fact that the phone number for the Marlinton facility is not in this year's phone book, and was listed incorrectly in the previous edition.
Akers spoke about damage to the Marlinton Post Office during the1985 flood and the days of cleaning-up that followed.
During that time Marlinton's mail was delivered to the Buckeye Post Office.
"As a matter of practicality," Buckeye resident Vicki Martin said, "we have not had the last flood in Marlinton, and Buckeye is the nearest post office to receive Marlinton's mail."
Akers did not know if the postal service owned the building in Buckeye, but provided paperwork which gave an assessment of the facility which stated that there were no defects in the building.
"The trailer is solid.ﾠ There are no leaks.ﾠ There are no holes.ﾠ There are no safety issues," the report said.
Akers shared the 2010 income from the Buckeye office as $19,823, and gave a 10-year projection of savings based on closure of the facility.
The United States Postal Service has a $15 billion credit limit. The postal service lost $10 billion in 2010, $8.5 billion for the year ending October 2011, and is expected to lose $9 billion this year, Akers said.
The postal service projects Buckeye's closure will reduce this year's $9 billion loss by $46,940.
"We want to break even," Akers said. "Up until 2005, we were at the breakeven point, but things changed in 2006.
Akers referred to Congress requiring the postal service to prefund health benefits for years into the future as the reason for the change in its financial position. That pre-funding could be rectified by Senator Joseph Lieberman's recommendation on the 21st Century Postal Service Act.
Lieberman's statement calls for broad change.
"Finally, our bill would help USPS get out from under the onerous weight of its current pre-funding requirements for its retiree health benefits by recalibrating the payments and amortizing them over time.ﾠ This, too, will provide significant financial relief to the Postal Service, Lieberman wrote.
"We are pursuing broad changes rather than working around the edges to put the Postal Service back on the road to recovery."
The postal service ranks just behind Wal-Mart as this county's largest civilian employer, said Akers.ﾠ The postal service cut 7,500 management positions this year, and are looking at eliminating 110,000 jobs through attrition over the next four years. In addition, several distribution centers are set for closure.
The USPS' attempts to cut costs by closing distribution is having a negative, domino effect on small businesses that depend on the postal service to deliver their products.
"It's all about the money," Akers said.ﾠ "We don't have the revenue."
A visit to the "Citizens Against Government Waste" website shows just where some of the USPS revenue was spent and it was not in keeping the doors open at small post offices.
The article titled "USPS Chief Living Large," by Leslie Paige, was published September 27, 2006, and reveals excess spending near the top of the postal service from January 2003 to December 2005, the time that Akers said things changed.
"The United States Postal Service (USPS) is fond of describing itself as a business on par with some Fortune 100 companies," Paige wrote. "However, a recent investigation by the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) into allegations of misconduct of one of its chief spokespersons, Vice-President for Public Affairs and Communications (PAC) Azeezaly Jaffer, graphically reveals just how far removed postal business operations are from those of any well-run, private sector corporation."
The article goes on to reveal Jaffer's high-end living at the expense of the postal service, "crisscrossing the country, wining and dining guests, and often, his own relatives, on the USPS'dime." Jaffer racked up $12,863 for meals at just one restaurant, and left a 44 percent tip in the amount of $824 at a D.C. restaurant.
"Mr. Jaffer told OIG investigators he considered ﾑanything up to $100 a bottle (of wine) to be halfway decent and reasonable."' Paige wrote. "Maybe the USPS does operate like a Fortune 100 business," "Just like Enron, Fannie Mae, or Tyco."
Buckeye postal patrons just want their mail delivered in a timely fashion.
Buckeye resident and former Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Walt Weifordﾠ attemptedﾠ to a letter from Congressman Nick Rahall, addressed to those in attendance.
Akers interrupted Weiford.
Rahall's letters are all the same, Akers said.
But Weiford insisted that he be allowed to continue.
The letter stated that Rahall is actively engaged in fighting the U. S. Postal Service's closure and consolidation of postal facilities.ﾠ He supports maintaining six-day delivery service and is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1351, a bill to restore the financial solvency of the Postal Service without closing rural post offices.
"By any measure the Postal Service's deficit projected saving of $200 million [by closing small offices] would hardly cover an $8.5 billion annual deficit.
Weiford, a lung transplant recipient, told Akers that he depends on the local post office to deliver his life-saving medication which comes from Omaha, Nebraska.
Martin lives in the same neighborhood as Weiford and expressed her concern about mail delivered to boxes on the rural route which required a suffix.
Martin's box number has no suffix, but that same box number with suffixes is used by many others.
"If people get lazy and leave off the suffix, the local post master and carrier know where they go," she said. "If they are on vacation I get other people's mail and I become a mail carrier."
Perhaps the most compelling description of what is being lost by the closing of small post offices was voiced by Buckeye resident Arlene Armstrong.
"We're not just a box, we're a person," she said.
"History of Pocahontas County - 1981" tells that the first post office was established prior to the Civil War when the community was known as Buckeye Cove, Virginia.ﾠ There was apparently no mail service or no post office in the community during the war, but the history records Ennis E. Sharp as post master beginning in 1882.