Michael Thompson, USPS Manager of Post Office operations for southeastern Kentucky, spoke to a crowd of about 50 people Monday during a community meeting held at Whitley East Elementary School. The meeting was to discuss a proposal to close the Siler post office.
About 50 residents in the rural Whitley County community of Siler gathered Monday to defend their local post office – one of over 3,700 U.S. Postal Service facilities nationwide on the chopping block as part of a cost-saving measure for the beleaguered organization.
Michael Thompson, Manger of Post Office Operations for southeastern Kentucky, painted a grim picture of the postal service’s future without drastic changes. During Monday’s community meeting, held at Whitley East Elementary School, Thompson told the crowd that, nationwide, the USPS was losing about $24 billion a day and would be in a $10 billion hole at the end of the year. The USPS delivers about 43 billion pieces of mail annually less than it used to, and that number is projected to go down another 20 percent in the next four years.
"The postal service is not just looking at small communities … They are looking at everything they can possibly cut," Thompson said.
In response, Thompson said the USPS has reduced management staff by 15 percent and has laid off nearly 100,000 employees.
The main driving factor behind the proposed closure of Siler’s post office is a lack of revenue. It had $22,776 in revenue in the 2010 fiscal year, but had over double that in expenses. Closing the office will save an estimated $641,130 over 10-year-period, according to the USPS proposal.
The idea met with resistance, and some outright hostility, from residents who were uniformly opposed to the closure during Monday’s meeting.
Michael Partin, an outspoken critic of the closure, summed up the increasing frustration on the part of many who attended the meeting. The general opinion seemed to be that no matter what residents said, the result was a foregone conclusion. Residents were also frustrated by Thompson’s inability to provide definitive answers to many of their questions.
"A decision has already been made. This is a joke. What you are putting us through is a joke," Partin told Thompson at one point. "You are not going to consider our concerns and we know it. You should have made a recording of that ‘I can’t give you an answer.’ That’s been your response to everything."
Thompson countered and said a final decision is still up in the air, but that his input could be crucial if the post office is to be saved.
"I can’t give you anything more than my word that I will propose that we save some of our offices," Thompson said. "I can’t sit here today and tell you yours is going to be one of them because we haven’t reviewed everything yet. I cannot promise you any of them can be saved. I’m not going to sit up here and tell you guys a story. I’m going to tell you that probably a majority of the offices are going to be closed."
Residents had two main concerns with closure of the post office: loss of P.O. boxes, which they say are vital because mail theft is such a problem in the community, and help with buying money orders and filling out bills for residents who can’t read or write.
Carolyn Miracle, another of the more outspoken opponents of the proposal, said that USPS officials were trying to shoehorn city values and habits on the people of Siler. She noted that while many in more densely populated areas may use computers to pay bills and conduct business, it is not as common in more remote areas.
"I realize we are in the dark ages, but that’s the way we like it," Miracle said. "You are basing this on city life. We are not city people."
Thompson said if the post office were closed, residents would have the option to travel to Williamsburg’s post office (about a 25 to 30 mile round trip), or go to the Frakes post office, which is only around four miles away. Residents countered that the first option was too far to drive, and that the second is a difficult journey in snowy weather.
Postal officials ensured that rural delivery would not be affected and said that those who live in Siler would be able to keep their same address even if the post office closes. Thompson said there is a plan to have carriers be able to offer some services like sell money orders or accept certified mail.
The meeting was organized, officially, by the USPS in response to the proposal to close Siler’s post office. Prior to it, some of the residents met to discuss among themselves what they would say at the meeting. A slide show presentation opposing the move was played during both meetings.
Whitley East Elementary School Principal Jason Faulkner said he opposed closing the Siler post office because of the convenience it provides to the school.
"We house about 300 students in this school and we do every bit of our business through that post office," Faulkner said. "We get boxes and boxes of mail weekly. A lot of it is confidential records."
Thompson said that there are 45 post offices in his region slated to be closed. He said that the decision to close them was made at the national level, but that comments from the community meetings would be considered in a final determination of closing.
If the post office were closed, it would likely happen sometime in late December or early January he said.