A discussion with David Rupert: Why Sierraville P.O., and others, are closing 083111
The Prospect contacted the United States Postal Service representative David Rupert, and asked some questions about the closures in the county, particularly Sierraville. With Calpine being closed, Sierraville was the next nearest for lots of folks, but now it’s on the block, too.
Mr. Rupert is soft spoken and given to making affirmative sounds (uhm-hmm); and was patient while your Fringe Editor wailed and railed about the increasing cost and decreasing value of government services. Obviously used to dealing with all kinds of nutcases, he remained on message and unruffled through our conversation. It’s why he has the job he does.
In the end, Mr. Rupert had very little to add to what we already know, though he did clarify some details.
Not news: The Postal Service is going broke. It’s the economy, which is causing us all to go broke, and the internet is getting the Post Office. Increasingly people pay bills, correspond with friends, and get their news from the internet. Some paper newspapers are going broke and the paper versions of some newspapers are getting smaller even as the internet version gets bigger. Mr. Rupert pointed out that, in our own small way, the Prospect is making some of the services of the Post Office irrelevant. There is a decreasing need for paper mail. The result of poor economy and shifting customer base means the PO is going to run in the red very soon.
Sierraville is being considered for closure because it does less than $27,000 a year, it has a declining workload; it’s an office in decline. No other factors are really being considered at this point, not the distance we’d all have to drive, not the cost of the building, not the importance of the PO to the community. If we want those things to be considered, Mr. Rupert encourages us to attend the meeting on September 15th, at the Sierraville School. It might make a difference, but probably not, because according to Mr. Rupert, little post offices in rural areas, and even neighborhood post offices in urban areas, are often well defended by community members. People everywhere love their POs, and they all have the same good reasons why theirs can’t be closed: convenience and safety for old folks, business stationary and custom, community center.
Though Mr. Rupert didn’t say so, from our discussion it becomes very clear that Post Offices in our little county are different from other places in that they really are community centers. A lot of people don’t just go to their box and leave, they stop in to say hi to the postmaster and deposit and obtain fresh gossip. We are going to miss our POs in a way many people wouldn’t.
We won’t lose service completely, we’ll have home delivery, and very possibly even some stationary PO boxes. There is also the idea of the “village post office” which means there might be post office service in the Sierraville Country Store, for example. That outlet would sell “flat rate” services like stamps, envelopes and boxes. Anything that can be scanned. At press time, the Sierraville Service and Country store hasn’t been contacted to offer such service. Still, the store’s owner, Jean McCaffery, said she’d be open to discussing it, and the Country Store is certainly the next most popular place for gossip behind the Sierraville PO.
Mr. Rupert told the Prospect that in the last five years the Postal Service has lost 110,000 employees. There simply is no more fat to cut.
During our conversation it became clear that the Post Office could be saved. There are three factors:
- The cost of stamps is tied to the Consumer Price Index, and does not consider things like the cost of gas or the replacement of postal vehicles. Mr. Rupert mentioned that many if not most of the Postal Service vehicles are 30 years old and/or have a zillion miles on them. We pay more for almost everything these days, we should pay more for postal service, and especially, junk mail costs should be raised to support the Postal Service and to discourage the environmental waste that unwanted catalogues create.
- Deliver mail only five days a week, Monday through Friday but not Saturday.
- In 2006 congress passed a law requiring the Postal Service to accumulate in ten years enough reserve to prepay employee health costs for 75 years. Mr. Rupert points out that this requires them to have a reserve for employees they haven’t even hired yet, and we’ll correct that to say they are covering employees that haven’t been born yet.
A modest increase in postage, a minor decrease in delivery days and a more reasonable health care reserve would save our post office, and indeed, everybody’s post office.
Mr. Rupert skillfully didn’t ask the Fringe Editor to turn everyone’s gaze away from Renee Brown, away from the Postal Service, and to our congressmen. Though he didn’t ask it, it was obvious and implicit in his information. The Postal Service is being forced to run like a not for profit business, and not making a profit is killing it as it would any business. If Congress would reverse the enormous reserve, tie the cost of postal services to the cost of fuel and other increasing costs, and reduce delivery on Saturday, we could save the Postal Service in spite of the internet.
The Prospect sent an email to Tom McClintock’s office, because we’ve come to understand that if a congressman is going to get back to us, it’s McClintock. We asked him if he understood the situation as Mr. Rupert described it, and if so, would he seek changes as described. When his office replies, we’ll let you know.
Meantime, everyone should go to the Sierraville PO meeting, and be as clear in our need, and as understanding of the Postal Service’s situation, as possible.
Thanks to David Rupert for answering our questions.
Post Script: Clio is supposed to be the next post office for all of us; we told Mr. Rupert to have someone drive from Calpine to Clio. Also, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, Graeagle Post Office is larger than Clio.