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North Kitsap's post offices safe from closures and cutbacks, for now

Liezl Rebulado rings up Robert Balogh
Liezl Rebulado rings up Robert Balogh's mail costs as a line of customers snakes outside the door at the Poulsbo post office, Tuesday. All post offices in North Kitsap County have been spared from closures.
— image credit: Richard Walker

POULSBO — So far, none of North Kitsap’s post offices are on the U.S. Postal Service’s closure list. The news is not so good for 39 other Washington communities.

Adios, American Lake and Appleton. Goodbye, Gifford. So long, Loomis. Parting is such sweet sorrow, Skamokawa and Stehekin.

The U.S. Postal Service has proposed closing 3,700 post offices nationwide and about 250 mail processing centers — including eight in Washington state — and ending Saturday service to close a $9.2 billion deficit. No closures are expected until after May.

Some $5.5 billion of that $9.2 billion is money the USPS must pay annually until 2016 to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits, as required by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.

“We’ve asked Congress to give us two or three years where we don’t have to pay it, since we’re ahead of the game,” said Ernie Swanson, USPS spokesman for Washington and Northern Idaho. To date, USPS has set aside some $20 billion to cover the costs of future retiree health benefits, Swanson said.

But Swanson noted that even without having to make the $5.5 billion payment, the USPS is still in the red. “Our last profitable year was 2006,” he said.

Besides the proposed closures and the request for relief from funding future health care benefits, USPS has cut back on transportation, held off on hiring and training, and postponed pay increases for all hands, including postmasters and managers.

USPS is even proposing the sacrifice of sacred ground: the closure of a Philadelphia post office that predates the American Revolution. The post office is located in the home of Benjamin Franklin, the nation’s first postmaster general.

“The fact we’re considering closing it shows how dire (the situation) is,” Swanson said.

Congress is considering three bills that would recalculate what the USPS should pay for future retiree health benefits. The legislation would also reimburse USPS for overpayments to the old Civil Service Retirement System, which ended in 1988, and the Federal Employee Retirement System.

Post offices were targeted for closure if they had low foot traffic, average sales of less than $50 per day, required less than two hours of work per day, and if there was another post office within five miles, Swanson said.

While North Kitsap post offices have escaped the closure list, future cuts in services or staffing are possible in Kitsap County. Bremerton’s Sheridan Park post office on Sylvan Way was not on the closure list issued in July, but USPS targeted it for closure after failing to sell its main Bremerton post office, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are currently three post offices in Bremerton. USPS will have a public meeting Jan. 9 in the Bremerton Library, 1301 Sylvan Way, to disclose the closure.

Port Gamble Postmaster Laura McCloskey isn’t worried about cutbacks at her location. Port Gamble is one of Kitsap’s smallest post offices but is always bustling. McCloskey was too busy to talk much on Monday, and the line of customers outside her window seemed to underscore the necessity of her post office in this northwesternmost part of the Kitsap Peninsula. Besides providing mail and product services to Port Gamble’s businesses and residents, it has 239 post office boxes; P.O. box customers hail from Kingston, Poulsbo and Port Ludlow.

The Port Gamble post office also has geography on its side; it’s located 13 miles from Hansville, eight miles from Kingston, and 10.2 miles from Poulsbo.

Columnist Marylin Olds of Kingston blamed Congress for the postal service’s economic condition in a column for the October Kingston Community News. “In 1970, the USPS was modified from a Cabinet-level department to a privately funded public mail delivery service,” she wrote. “Congress basically managed it after that, but the Postal Service funded itself, relying entirely on the sale of stamps and postage. No taxpayer dollars have been used since then.”

Olds called the funding of health benefits for retirees not even born yet “hinky.”

“No other government entity shares this same requirement. In addition, the law was enacted the same year the USPS experienced its biggest volume of mail ever, and so was at its most prosperous.”

Olds wrote that communities, and consumers, are the real losers.

“U.S. post offices have served as the true heart of many communities, particularly small burgs and rural America. That will be where the lost jobs and facilities will be, not the urban areas,” Olds wrote.

“Although Congress requires the Postal Service to provide universal service at a fixed rate, FedEx and UPS charge extra for thousands of rural zip codes. Think about it next time you gripe about the price of a stamp. What else can you get for 44 cents these days?”

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