Mountain towns make inroads with Postal Service on challenges
Meeting with Postal Service leadership allows local municipalities to air grievances
Over the past few years, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing challenges and the rise of online shopping, Colorado’s mountain community post offices have been hit hard. In recent months, many of these mountain communities have begun to take steps toward addressing some of these challenges.
As a result of the increased attention and added pressure from local and state leaders, communication between the Postal Service and local governments has begun to open up. In late February, a meeting was held between municipalities, representatives of state legislators, and Postal Service leadership to have an open conversation about the challenges facing local post offices.
Among the meeting attendees were leaders from many of Colorado’s mountain communities — including from several Eagle County towns — as well as representatives from the offices of Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse’s, and Postal Service leadership.
“Our office convened a productive meeting last week between local community leaders, USPS regional leadership and other congressional offices,” said a spokesperson from Bennet’s office in a written statement to the Vail Daily. “Senator Bennet will continue to raise the ongoing challenges Colorado’s rural and mountain communities face with USPS.”
The genesis for this meeting could potentially be tracked back to Oct. 2021, when the president of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, Dara MacDonald, wrote a letter to Bennet and Hickenlooper, calling for “a systematic change in the way the USPS operates in our mountain communities.”
In Eagle County, only Avon and Vail are members of this association.
Following the letter, Bennet and Hickenlooper did reach out to the Postal Service and received a response from Cory Brown, a Postal Service government relations representative.
In Brown’s response, he wrote that “they are establishing a monthly videoconference meeting to maintain the lines of communication between district postal officials and representatives from Western Slope communities.”
While Bennet’s office had one previous meeting with a U.S. Postal Service representative, the most recent February meeting was the first that included representatives from these communities, indicating that some movement is being made.
James Boxrud, Postal Service spokesperson for the Western Area of the United States, wrote in an email that the meeting in February was “very productive,” and a number of topics were discussed. According to his email, the group discussed delivery issues, home delivery, free Post Offices boxes, additional parcel lockers, facility improvements and cleanliness as well as cost of living in resort communities and staffing.
At the Tuesday, Feb. 22 Avon Town Council meeting, Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes discussed the meeting and said it was “very interesting.”
According to Smith Hymes’ account, the meeting began with a Postal Service representative addressing a number of the more ubiquitous challenges across post offices in the region and then gave each town representative three minutes to present specific challenges.
In Eagle County, each post office has its own individual set of challenges. In a previous interview with the Vail Daily, Smith Hymes highlighted complaints from residents about the local post office’s cleanliness, long wait times, and privacy concerns.
In Gypsum, in a previous interview, Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann reported concerns about the size of the post office, long wait times and a state of disrepair in the parking lot and building.
While there are individual challenges at each local site, some of the problems are ubiquitous: long wait times, lost and delayed packages and mail, and difficulty addressing and receiving packages.
Smith Hymes’ report of the meeting to the Avon Town Council highlighted that various municipal leaders discussed a number of these topics and challenges. This included the possibility of cluster boxes and home delivery and PO box availability to slow delivery times and lost mail.
One of the other items discussed on the call was “space constraint studies,” which are conducted by the Postal Service. In an earlier interview, Rietmann said these are “the Postal Service’s first step towards evaluating the needs of a postal location and working towards solutions.”
Gypsum’s post office was one of the Colorado locations that received a space constraint study. It was determined that it is indeed “space constrained,” Rietmann said on Friday. However, no next steps have been identified at this point.
Additionally, Smith Hymes reported that customer complaints about local post offices should not be made to the local offices. Rather, these complaints should be made on the USPS website.
In speaking to the Postal Service’s own challenges, Boxrud wrote that “the challenges in our mountain communities have been consistent.”
“Staffing has been and continues to be our biggest challenge. The cost of living and lack of affordable housing have been a large contributor not only for the Postal Service, but for all employers. We continue to monitor staffing and we flex our available resources, augmenting from other locations around the region as necessary,” Boxrud added. “The advent of the pandemic, the increase of consumer use of ordering necessities online and the national employment challenges have exacerbated this for our mountain communities.”
Rietmann reported on Friday that the meeting “went well in the sense that we’ve established a relationship with the broader agency, and relationships are how you get results.”
Rietmann added that he went in the meeting hoping for an acknowledgement of the local problems that require fixing and a commitment from Postal Service officials to fixing them.
“We got both,” he said. “It’s a start to establishing a relationship to make things better.”
In moving forward, the hope is that more conversations will lead to more change at the local post offices.
“We have to be able to have some sort of interaction with our local post office and get some responses,” Smith Hymes said. “Things are happening and we will continue to push for it.”
And, according to Boxrud’s response, the U.S. Postal Service is ready to start having more of these interactions and conversations.
“USPS is thankful for the opportunity to speak with this group and are committed to working with each town to address their individual needs to every extent possible. We are planning follow-up sessions in the near future to improve open, positive and solution-oriented communications,” wrote Boxrud.
Postal Service overhaul on the horizon
With more open lines of communication, there is some hope that local change could be coming. However, there is also the possibility of federal change, which could create more systemic solutions. The Postal Service Reform Act, if passed in the Senate, could bring a $57 billion overhaul to the federal agency, addressing a number of financial and operational challenges faced by the agency.
“If passed by the Senate, this legislation will have the same operational and financial impacts as the self-help steps we are taking at the Postal Service to provide the American people with the delivery service they expect and deserve,” wrote Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in a written statement to the Vail Daily.
While the act could have wide-sweeping impacts to the agency, it could also help address some of the local challenges. A written statement to the Vail Daily from a Hickenlooper spokesperson noted that this bipartisan act could bring about positive change.
“Our office has heard from rural communities in Eagle County and across Colorado that are experiencing unreliable mail delivery. Senator Hickenlooper supports the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act, which will help fix this by strengthening USPS and improving service to mountain communities,” the statement read.
Bennet has also been pushing for this bill to be addressed quickly in the Senate, writing a letter earlier in the month to the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. A spokesperson from Bennet’s office wrote that this act could “addresses some of these issues,” in local Colorado communities.
Although passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in early February, the bill has yet to be heard and voted on by the Senate.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.