Mail delivery will continue for New Boston

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter

"It's really unusual that the emergency suspension happened so quickly," said Rich Watkins Monday morning, Feb. 7. Rich is a media specialist with the United States Postal Service and his area covers most of Iowa and the Quad City area (anything in Illinois with a Zip Code starting with 612..).

There have been no jobs lost out of the New Boston Postal area, according to Watkins. The New Boston postmaster position is currently vacant; the part-time clerk is serving as the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) for New Boston. Also, there is a regular rural letter carrier, and a rural carrier relief (RCA), who fills in for the regular carrier when he/she is on leave. There are approximately 381 rural deliveries out of New Boston, said Watkins.

"Our operations manager's concern is mail service. They are in the position of having to maintain delivery to that community. The operations manager's and the postmaster's responsibility is getting mail out to that community," he said.

The post office boxes from New Boston were all moved to Joy on Friday. Individual customers, for now, do not have an address change.

The postal service has its own contract specialists and facility specialists who work with the building owners making sure the contracts are up to government standards and so are the buildings. The USPS leases about 75 percent of its post offices nationwide. Watkins said there were 32,000 post offices nationwide, with 850 located in Hawkeye district, which includes New Boston.

"We were confident that negotiations with the land owner would be settled," said Watkins. "Our operations managers were caught off guard. They hated to give their customers that kind of late notice," he said.

"We didn't sign a lease," he said. "We couldn't come to an agreement."

The USPS will hold a town meeting in New Boston to give and receive input with its customers sometime later this month.

Watkins said the New Boston Postmaster was moved up to Joy to help with the post office box relocation and to take care of the its customer's mail. Rural delivery will come out of Joy. New Boston has one rural route.

Some of the options being considered for the future mail delivery in New Boston include installing cluster boxes for in-town mail delivery, with parcel lockers and a slot for outgoing mail. Another option is having customers put up rural type mailboxes. Watkins said the post office no longer offers curbside delivery, where a postal worker delivers from home to home right near the front doors on any new housing developments since 1978.

"By law we can't close a post office because it doesn't generate enough revenue," Watkins said. He said that the problem with New Boston was not due to lack of revenue, but rather with the lease of the building.

The US Postal Service is considered a government agency, but it does not receive tax money for its operation. "We're expected to run like a business."

Watkins said that nationally it is a business that has been losing money - "We lose $8.5 billion a year."

Some of the money loss comes from the business's pre-funded retiree health benefits. Postal managers, as well as employees have come up with ways to save money - through attrition and consolidating mail sorting centers, for example. The Kansas City Kansas (KCK) sorting center was consolidated with Kansas City, Missouri saving $9 million. "We moved KCK to a building we own in Kansas City, Missouri. "Fixed overhead costs were cut through the old plant."

He said through attrition alone the USPS has dropped the number of employees working by 100,000 over the past three years.

"People sometimes will look at a smaller operation. We have to ask all of our employees to look at everything to try to save money," he said. The postal service did eliminate 12,000 carrier routes through consolidation with the help of the National Association of Letter Carriers two years ago.

"To their credit they saw how much lighter their mailbags were getting," said Watkins. He explained the post office has a complex system that was used to evaluate route consolidation to save money. Instead, two years ago they began to listen to their employees and eliminated 12,000 carrier routes through consolidation with the help of the letter carriers' input.

Customers were notified by press releases that were published in area newspapers informing them of possible changes such as the time of mail delivery and perhaps a change in who would be delivering the mail. "The bottom line was most delivery routes were unchanged," said Watkins.

Universal service is the mainstay of the US Postal Service. "We can't close post offices by law," said Watkins. Mail delivery is considered a universal right. Satellite offices can be closed, he added. For instance, in some cases there are satellite offices within six blocks of each other. "When the flooding came in Cedar Rapids two years ago we decided to close that satellite office."