Dillon, Silverthorne post offices see major delays due to staffing shortage, high mail volumes | VailDaily.com

Dillon, Silverthorne post offices see major delays due to staffing shortage, high mail volumes

Jack Queen
jqueen@summitdaily.com

Customers at the Dillon and Silverthorne post offices have reported sharp reductions in mail deliveries in recent weeks, leaving businesses pinched for revenue and residents without mail service on the eve of tax season.

A combination of staff shortages, weather-related road closures and higher volumes of mail have all contributed to the slowdown, according to U.S. Postal Service representatives and post office employees who asked that their names be withheld.

The Dillon and Silverthorne offices have only had two workers each. Since someone has to work the customer desk, that leaves only one person in the back to sort mail, fill P.O. boxes and process packages, employees said.

Each one of those tasks can be a full-time job in itself, one employee said, who reported working nearly 70-hour weeks and not getting a scheduled day off since starting the job months ago.

“Silverthorne is running out of places to put the snow. Now it’s running out of places to put the mail.”Barbara BerryController at Columbine Hills Concrete

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The crunch forces employees to prioritize packages, leaving the mail bound for P.O. boxes to accumulate. That's kept businesses, residents and even the Silverthorne town government in the lurch.

RETURN TO SENDER

The Buffalo Mountain Metropolitan District, a water utility for Wildernest, hasn't received mail in over a week, said district manager Shellie Duplan.

"This is our prime billing period when we get checks on a daily basis, but we haven't gotten any since Jan. 18," she said. "We're not receiving the required income to run our district."

Barbara Berry, a controller at Columbine Hills Concrete, said her company hadn't received mail in any of its three boxes in a week. Checks for snow plowing services and tax returns sent out at the beginning of last week still haven't arrived, she said.

"Silverthorne is running out of places to put the snow," she said. "Now it's running out of places to put the mail."

An employee at a local car dealer who preferred to not be identified reported not receiving mail from a bank that was sent on Jan. 4 until Tuesday. And multiple residents from Silverthorne and Dillon said their boxes were going empty for days, leaving them without rent payments, Social Security checks and even birthday cards.

On Tuesday, the town of Silverthorne had gone a week without mail, including payments for utilities and sales taxes. That caused a cash flow issue and prompted officials to send letters to U.S. and state representatives, citing "frantic phone calls from our constituents" and "mail being RETURNED TO SENDER due to the post office's inability to process it properly."

Some residents and businesses were sympathetic to employees of the post offices, which they said were clearly understaffed. Calls and emails they made to a regional supervisor went unreturned, they said. An area manager of post office operations did not return phone calls from the Daily.

"I'm not blaming the employees at all," said Duplan. "My point is that it comes from management. There have got to be more people hired to do the job."

Calling in reinforcements

Cindy Annon, who serves as postmaster for both Dillon and Silverthorne, said she wasn't allowed to speak on record. She referred questions to a USPS spokesman.

John Friess, corporate communications manager for the Colorado and Wyoming area, said that Silverthorne and Dillon are at 50 percent staffing, which along with weather closures and high volumes of mail was delaying processing.

"We'll be fine in the next few days is the plan," Friess said. "We're waiting on word for when they'll be able to clear whatever's backlogged. We were dealing with decreased personnel and increased volume, but we'll catch up."

David Rupert, postal spokesman for Colorado, said in an email that delivery volumes in Summit County were up 30 percent compared with the same period last year. Hiring, he said, was also a challenge.

"Like other mountain towns, we have a limited pool of applicants," he wrote, "but we are confident that we will be at full strength soon."

He said that one new hire started this week and that others were expected to be on board in the near future.

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order freezing federal employee hiring, but it's unclear how that might affect post offices, Friess said. In the past, similar orders have not affected the Postal Service, although Friess said USPS has reached out to the Trump administration to discuss the matter.

In the short term, Dillon and Silverthorne have been borrowing workers from Breckenridge, Frisco and even Montrose to help process the backlog, employees said. Rupert said employees from Denver were also being called up.

On Wednesday, those measures seemed to bring some relief, with residents saying they received mail for the first time in more than a week — although some of the items were postmarked as far back as Jan. 13, and plenty were still missing.

The town of Silverthorne received a half bin of mail on Wednesday, but town manager Ryan Hyland said officials suspected there was still a backlog.

USPS is confident it will process the mounds of letters quickly, but residents and businesses were still wary, concerned they might fall behind on tax filings or pay late fees on delayed bills.

"I'm going to have so much mail they're not going to be able to fit it in my box, so what are they going to do?" asked Shellie Duplan. "I just want at least one piece of mail in my box."