Members of the Greenwood community packed Emmanuel Episcopal Church earlier this week to oppose a United States Postal Service plan that would reduce the rural post office’s retail hours from eight to six per day.
“Our strong encouragement is to leave us alone,” Scott Peyton, Greenwood Citizens Council chairman, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Our post office operates efficiently, is part of our community, and makes a profit.”
“We view ourselves as part of your solution, not part of your problem,” Peyton added.
In July of 2011, as part of a cost-saving initiative called Post Plan, the USPS announced that staff would study approximately 3,700 rural post offices around the country for possible closure or reduction in service due to decreasing mail volume, financial hardships and shifting customer behavior.
To gather community input, USPS distributed a four-question survey to Greenwood residents, asking how they would like to see their post office operations change.
Peyton, however, said the USPS wrote the survey for a pre-determined outcome.
“Our community was disappointed with the options, of which there were really only two,” Peyton said. “It was either accept the reduced hours or close the post office.”
Following the USPS survey, the Greenwood Citizens Council drafted and circulated a survey that showed a 96 percent approval rating of current postal operations; that 80 percent opposed a reduction in the hours of service; and that 91 percent expressed concern that the USPS was considering closing the post office without proper analysis or consideration of other options.
The USPS ended its last fiscal year in September with a record deficit of $15.9 billion.
Mountain Area manager of Post Office operations Sonny Cubbage attributes the losses to the digital age, noting a shifting trend toward USPS transactions occurring online.
“Most of you know that the computer age has stamped out first-class mail,” Cubbage said. “First-class letter mail is half of what it was two years ago. It’s gone and will never come back.”
But some in Greenwood, such as Century Farm owner Brian Scruby, noted the lack of Internet availability.
“We’re behind the times with electronic communications,” Scruby said. “We don’t have DSL through our phone lines, so many of us really use the facility.”
A vehicle drives past the rural Greenwood Post office in Albemarle County, VA
Credit: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress
Also of concern is the fear that Post Plan’s two-hour reduction in retail service will ultimately lead to the post office’s closure.
“This process will cycle around again, and maybe if more P.O. boxes are rented and more parcels are mailed, the hours might go back to eight hours,” Cubbage said.
“I think it’s a killing-you-softly domino effect,” Peyton said. “They say that they aren’t going to close you, then they take measures that will affect you financially, and then they say that they are going to come back a few years later and review you.”
“How in the world can our revenue increase if they’re reducing the hours that our window can perform retail sales?” Peyton asked.
Cubbage said that Post Plan was designed to keep post offices open.
“There’s no plan to eliminate the Greenwood post office,” Cubbage emphasized.
Of additional concern for some Greenwood residents is why their profitable post office is targeted for change.
“We are trying to help people succeed and improve their economic prosperity,” Albemarle Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said, “and we’re being sabotaged by this effort that you all are making to save your own skin.”
“You’re throwing under the bus this very profitable rural post office,” Mallek added.
Cubbage said that Post Plan evaluates post offices on other factors.
“The profitability of the post office has nothing to do with it,” Cubbage said. “We’re matching the workload to the hours of the office. If an office earns four hours [of revenue] a day, then they are going to be a four-hour office. This is the only way that you can keep all of the offices open.”
The five USPS representatives in attendance were unable to provide details on the savings a reduction in retail hours at the Greenwood would produce, but said that reductions were based upon, among other factors, the total number of transactions; the volume of P.O. boxes rented; the volume of mail a carrier handles; and other administrative duties.
Nationally, Post Plan is estimated to save the USPS $500 million per year. Prior to Post Plan, the Greenwood Citizens Council pushed back against Delivery Unit Optimization, a USPS plan to relocate some services to Crozet, arguing that doing so would simultaneously decrease quality of service and reduce the Greenwood office to a mail volume that would lead to the possibility of closure.
Neighboring Crozet is a designated growth area in Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan and has seen significant development in recent years. As a result, some say the USPS is failing to recognize more people could take advantage of nearby Greenwood in the future.
“You’re making changes universally because it might be more convenient for you and might deliver a short-term success rate,” Mallek said, “but there’s long-term degradation of services.”
“USPS has told us that they don’t have the luxury of looking down the road,” Peyton said. “They’re cutting off their nose to spite their face.”
USPS officials said Wednesday that the Richmond district will make a decision on how Post Plan will affect Greenwood within seven days. That announcement, they said, would be made available in the post office lobby.
Greenwood Citizens Council officials are planning to visit Richmond district manager Kevin McAdams in Richmond on Monday.