Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 01 November 2011 16:05
It was standing-room only as more than 100 people crowded into Ramona’s Trinity Lutheran Parish Hall to listen or make emotional appeals in saving their post office currently on a discontinuance study.
During the Oct. 20 meeting, Richard Brooke, Salina postmaster, discussed the reasons why Ramona’s facility was one of 3,700 post offices nationwide being studied for closure.
In addition to studying post office closings, he said the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C., is also looking at health and retirement benefits, a five-day rather than six-day delivery service, network optimization and discontinuing offices.
Mail processing centers
Network optimization involves cutting out more than 50 percent of the mail processing centers nationwide.
“We are having a town meeting in Salina on Nov. 30,” he said, “proposing to take the mail processing center and making it in Wichita.”
By reducing the 500 mail processing centers to 200, Brooke said, mail customers instead of getting a letter that normally requires one or two days would go to two to three days.
“One to two-day mail would cease to exist,” he said.
In other words, a letter sent from Ramona to Green in Clay County, which takes one day would, under network optimization, take two days.
Brooke said that back in 1993, the postal service had years of mail growth and the future seemed to indicate the postal service would see even more years of growth.
To address that growth, automated mail machines were purchased.
“We had two machines in Salina—one could read handwriting and another sorted the delivery order for carriers,” he said. “We ran our machines about nine to 10 hours a night, but with network optimization, the plan is to take the machines out of Salina and move them to Wichita and run them for 20 hours a day.”
Brooke said the network optimization plan is an aggressive one and the post office headquarters in Washington, D.C. will be petitioning the Postal Rate Commission in November to change those delivery standards.
“One to two goes to two to three days,” he said. “The Postal Rate Commission is not a binding entity for us.”
Brooke added that headquarters can listen to the commission’s opinion, but in the end the postal service will do what it wants on the delivery standard.
While the network optimization wheels are in motion, he said, headquarters is also considering five-day delivery service, reviewing health and retirement benefits and post office discontinuance.
“Four things are in the works,” he said, “which brings us to why we are here tonight.”
Why is Ramona on the list?
Brooke said Ramona’s post office was put on the discontinuance list “first and foremost” because the revenue was less than $27,500 annually, postmaster workload and customer use.
“That’s what got you on the list,” he said.
One person said that seven or eight years ago Tampa became part of Ramona’s postal group.
“When their post office closed,” she said, “was Tampa’s volume of mail also included?”
Brooke said that if Tampa’s mail comes to Ramona, which it does, then it is included.
“How do we check that?” another woman asked. “It just seems really low for including Tampa and Ramona.”
Brooke said that he has looked at Ramona’s records for the last four years and it is a lot less than $27,500.
Six days ago, he said, 120 post offices came off the discontinuance list nationwide.
“Revenue doesn’t drive the decision for post offices to close or stay open,” he said.
“The decision will be made in Washington.”
Ben Franklin, he said, got the postal service started and it wasn’t about making money.
“We were supposed to break even,” he said. “When we had all the mail (before email, internet), the cycle would be that if we needed more money we would raise the price of a stamp. When the cost of living went up, we would raise the price of a stamp and that’s how the cycle went until now.”
Timeline process for closing
Brooke said the timeline process to close is 138 days.
“The first 108 days is data collection, posting notices, town meetings and after the time is up a decision is made. Once it’s made there is a 30-day appeal process and if (headquarters) decides to close a facility, then you would have 30 days and then if appeal is still not withheld it is another 60 days.”
Brooke said that in Ramona’s case, the town would be looking at about February, give or take a week.
Who makes the decision?
One person asked who is the representative from headquarters that can hear what we have to say?
Brooke said he had no idea other than to send letters to the Postmaster General in Washington.
“So that is where the headquarters is—in Washington?” another person asked.
Jerry Lewman, retired postmaster in Ozawkie, northeast of Topeka, who also chairs the overseeing of post office closings, said people can also send letters to the Postal Rate Commission.
Brooke agreed, adding that is also where the appeals would go.
Other questions ranged from how would someone get stamps, and money orders to would people have to drive to Hope to get their mail daily.
Brooke said the rural carrier could do about everything their post office does now.
As for driving to Hope, he said customers would be able to have their mailbox at the end of their driveways.
Some people were concerned about a mailbox at the end of the driveway for fear of theft and vandalism.
One woman said her mailbox has been smashed eight times and she doesn’t want to spend money in Hope or Herington.
“With the U.S. Postal Service forcing me to put money into another town, it is just communist (to make us do that).” she said.
Several people wanted to commend the current postmaster, Kathy Matkins for going above and beyond what needs to be done.
Matkins became Ramona’s postmaster in 2000, and one person noted that she and her husband, Don, went to a lot of work in making sure the facility was kept up to avoid having similar problems of mold in the building which is what occurred in Tampa.
Others told Brooke that by taking the post office, they are “gutting the community.”
For many attending the meeting, one of their main concerns was Matkins’ job.
“You are messing with someone who works very hard,” one person said.
Everyone at the meeting was urged to send letters to both U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, Rep. Tim Huelskamp and Postmaster General Patrick Donahue.
Gilda Lintz, district director in Topeka for Roberts wanted to let the public know that congressmen and senators will not vote to keep post offices open or closed.
However, one person noted that maybe these individuals could pass their concerns on to others or apply pressure to the postmaster general.
For the majority of people living in Ramona, the idea of losing their facility is not an option.
“Post office services are vital to those of us who live in rural areas,” one resident said.
Many of the older people don’t use internet and some people cannot afford to drive 20 miles roundtrip to go to the nearest post office facility.
“The Ramona Post Office is the last full-time business in Ramona,” another person said.