Three local post offices could close |

Three local post offices could close

RED CLIFF – Congress is forcing the U.S. Postal Service to prepay its retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, and that’s the root of their financial woes, a Postal Service spokesman said.

Now, the Postal Service writes an annual check to the U.S. Treasury for $5.5 billion, and the cuts needed to make that payment reach all the way to rural Eagle County.

The Burns post office is slated to be closed by mid-May, and those in Bond and Red Cliff may also be on the chopping block, said David Rupert, who handles corporate communications with the U.S. Postal Service.

In Routt County, post offices in Toponas and Vicksburg are being studied for possible closing.

“Because we can’t make any other change, we’re left with this,” Rupert said. “We don’t take any joy in this because we know what a post office means to these small communities.”

Last year the Postal Service was $5 billion in the red after it made that $5.5 billion payment that Congress began requiring in the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, Rupert said.

That law calculated the costs of retiree health care benefits for the next 75 years, and required the Postal Service to pay it up front, Rupert said.

“We’re paying for people who haven’t been born yet,” Rupert said.

The Postal Service has asked that the bill be restructured, Rupert said.

“It’s an onerous requirement that’s dragging down our fiscal well-being. Nobody else has to do this, not any branch of government and not the private sector,” Rupert said.

The Postal Service is a $60 billion annual industry funded by postage fees, Rupert said.

It’s personal in places like Red Cliff.

“It would be a loss for Red Cliff,” Cisneros said. “When we lost our school we lost a lot. If we lose the post office it would be a real hit.”

Lost and bewildered folks often wander into the Red Cliff post office, stopping to ask Cisneros for directions. They’ve come to the right place.

Cisneros has been Red Cliff’s postmaster for 16 years. Before that she was the relief postmaster. She worked in the old post office, and in the trailer that was Red Cliff’s temporary post office while the current building was under construction.

She was born in Gilman, the abandoned mining town just up the road, moving to Red Cliff when she was 4 years old.

“No one accidentally goes to Red Cliff,” she said smiling.

Residents have until Jan. 19 to comment to the Postal Service about whether their post office should be closed. If the post offices are closed, residents have 120 days to protest.

The Postal Service will hand down its ruling in mid-May.

“We’ve been given a little more time,” Cisneros said.

Eagle County’s three rural post offices being studied are among 3,650 post offices across the country, including more than 100 in Colorado, Rupert said.

The Postal Service was going “full steam ahead” to make those cuts, Rupert said, when 22 congressmen wrote a letter to the postmaster asking them to slow down, including both of Colorado’s senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet.

Now, no post offices will be closed until May 15, Rupert said.

The Postal Service cut 110,000 employers over the past five years, Rupert said.

They’ll be closing mail processing centers in Salida, Durango, Alamosa and Colorado Springs. That Colorado Springs facility employs 300 people, Rupert said.

The Vail Valley used to have its mail processed through Glenwood Springs processing center, but that was shut down in 2011, Rupert said.

“We’ve cut everything we can and now we’re to the point of cutting the bone,” Rupert said.

Cutting back from six-day delivery to five days a week will save $3 billion a year, but requires congressional approval, Rupert said.

Senators Udall and Bennet pushed the six-month moratorium on the closing or consolidating rural post offices.

“While we may have very different views on how to financially improve the postal service, we all believe that democratically elected members of the Senate and the House have the responsibility to make significant changes to the postal service,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “… We believe that it is very important to give Congress the opportunity to reform the Postal Service in a way that protects universal service while ensuring its financial viability for decades to come.”

The senators outlined priorities for reform that encourage innovation and creative approaches to existing assets.

Electronic delivery has hit hard. First class volume is down 20 percent over the last three years, Rupert said.

“That’s our bread and butter,” Rupert said.

The Postal Service is moving more toward the village post office, locating it in a gas station or convenience store.

“You go to stores and you can buy stamps. For most transactions, could they be done in a place like that?” Rupert asked.

Post offices are screened by workload, revenue and trends, Rupert said.

“We don’t close office simply because they’re not making money. If that were so we would close 80 percent of the post offices,” Rupert said.

Burns has 38 post office boxes and averages two transactions per day, things like selling stamps or sending packages, Rupert said. The McCoy post office, 13 miles from Burns, will remain open.

“They’ll miss that postmaster being there, but it’s an awfully expensive convenience,” Rupert said.

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