The US Post Office in Broadbent, Oregon, where we get our mail here on the ranch, is on a short list of 46 post offices that are likely to be closed in Oregon within the next few months. Apparently there are 3200 post offices locations that are being considered for closure nationwide; only 46 are in Oregon.
Last night we had a meeting at the Broadbent Community Church, where two officials from the regional USPS from the Eugene Office briefed the public on the possible closure, the various options of what might happen if they do close the Broadbent Post Office, and the decision-making process itself.
There were about 40 people in attendance at the meeting.
The woman briefing us was reading from a script. She did not have answers to most of the questions that were asked. She did not know exactly who would be making the decision to close (or not) the Broadbent Post Office. She did not know what would happen if they closed the Post Office. Her compatriot at the meeting was taking down names of people and their questions (by hand, in a paper notebook), so they could send them off to the people who would be making the decision.
We are in the middle of “Fly Season” in Broadbent — there are a lot of flies everywhere. The Broadbent Community Church was swarming with them, and the flies were constantly pestering the speaker throughout the meeting. I felt sorry for her until she complained about it and someone said, “Welcome to Broadbent.”
What she didn’t know, and what I’m sure the USPS executives have no clue about, is that the Post Office is the last remnant (except for the Church where the meeting was held) of a town. The Broadbent Store closed ten years ago. The last service station in town went out of business a decade before that. There’s no other service business of any kind in Broadbent, except for our Post Office.
This whole meeting (and all the meetings they are doing locally where Post Offices are up for closure) appeared to me to be solely and only an attempt by the USPS to cover its collective ass and stave off the inevitable lawsuits. Without this meeting, one could claim there was “no input from the community”. With the meeting, one could say that the community “had a place at the table” when making the decision. Even if all they do is box up the notes they took at the meeting and shelve them, after this meeting they can claim that they “listened to the local customers” before making their decision.
What I learned:
1. There is no set criteria for who will make the decision.
There’s no one individual who can be contacted or petitioned or whose duty it is to make these cuts, of which ours is just one of 3200 on which they will decide.
Some sort of committee may make the selection? She claimed they don’t know yet who will make the decision, or whether that would be a committee or an individual.
2. There’s no set criteria on which the decision will be based.
My admittedly cynical guess it that the “squeaky wheel” system will be used. The communities that have been the most vocal and threatening will get their Post Offices kept open, and the ones who meekly submit and are polite will have their post offices closed.
3. Broadbent has a large proportion of elderly/retired/disabled people in it, who depend on the Broadbent Post Office to receive their disability checks and for delivery of medicines. I didn’t realize quite how many elderly and infirm there were in our community until I saw them at the meeting.
4. Closing the Broadbent Post Office will save the USPS approximately $600,000 over ten years — which is $60k/year.
I don’t know what their total annual budget is for the Broadbent Post Office. They are in a building that is single-use — in other words it was built to be the Post Office. It has its own little (paved)parking lot. But the Post Office doesn’t own it. The owner of the building (who gets a monthly lease payment from them) was at the meeting. Of course HE wants to keep the post office open.
5. Some of the options for mail service if they close the Post Office are:
a. Setting up “community clusters” — roadside mail boxes where we have a key, and if there’s a big parcel they will put it in a big box and leave a key to the big box in your normal little mailbox. Apartment dwellers all over the US are familiar with this system.
b. Increasing delivery routes. That’s not going to help us any here on the ran ch because we’re 8 miles out at the end of a dirt road. It makes no sense to have mail delivery here — what we need is a Post Office where we get our mail.
c. Moving our post office boxes to Myrtle Point: this would require a build-out (construction) of the Myrtle Point Post Office as they have very limited space there currently and nowhere to put another bank of post office boxes.
d. An option they can’t do here is setting up a “contract office” where a local business operates under contract to the Post Office to hand out mail, sort mail into mail boxes, etc. There ARE no such businesses in Broadbent.
Of the four, the “community clusters” seems to me the least interruptive of actual service. At least we won’t have to drive any farther to pick up our regular mail.
I find I am ambivalent about whether or not they close our Broadbent Post Office, but a bit saddened about the general trend of post office closures, school closures, and the entire centralization of everything into the cities and away from the country.
A hundred years ago, there were three schools — each with its own live-in school mistress offering Grades 1 through 8, with 20 to 30 students — within 5 miles of our house. The house where we live WAS a Post Office 100 years ago, for a thriving local community of loggers, ranchers, and their familes. There were a lot more people living out here in the country then. There’s been an exodus of people from the country to the city over the last 100 years; I had thought that was over, but it’s still going on, and we’re still in the middle of it.
As a child in the mid-1950s, I attended part of my 1st grade in a 2-room schoolhouse in the country near Brownsville, Texas. One room had about 20 kids in it, and the teacher taught from the 1st to 8th grades. The other room was the high school, with about ten kids who were in the 9th through 12th grades. I knew all of the kids in the lower school by name and reputation.
When I graduated from Lincoln High School in Portland Oregon in 1970, the graduating class was over 1200 kids; I knew about a dozen of them. I don’t think that kind of impersonal, industrial education was any improvement.
The trend seems to be such that in 50 years, the only schools and the only post office and services, will be in the large cities. Will the collapsing economy of it ensure there will be nothing for us country dwellers? no post offices, no schools, no police, and no road maintenance? Will the area between the cities fall into ruin and anarchy? Hard to predict, but it seems, today, with the threatened closure of our beloved Post Office, just a little more likely.
Not a post-apocalyptic society (think “Mad Max”): a post-consolidation civilization of city-dwellers only, with everything else abandoned. Maybe Robert A. Heinlein had it right — in one book he postulated “Abandoned Areas” where there was no service at all, because it was too risky for the service providers (police, EMTs, schools, etc.) to go in there. If you ventured in, you were on your own.
We can certainly survive without our little Post Office, although it will be, just as certainly, a great inconvenience to us and our neighbors. From our house it is about 25 minutes to the Post Office, and another 5 minutes to Myrtle Point, where they would move our services if they closed it.
If it saves the USPS half a million dollars over the next ten years, that would be a good thing, if it helps the USPS get and stay solvent. But I suspect that somehow, the Post Office will go belly-up anyway.
Like God, mismanagement is everywhere; endemic, ubiquitous and omnipresent.
On the other hand — having this little Post Office (and our own Postmaster, who knows us all) has always been a great thing. Twice, over the last ten years, I’ve gotten a phone call from our Postmistress, on the morning of Christmas Eve. Here’s how the last such phone conversation went, Christmas Eve 2010:
“Hi, this is Irena from the Broadbent Post Office. Is that you, Jere?”
“Oh, hi, Irena. Yes, it’s me. Merry Christmas! Do I have a parcel or something?”
“Merry Christmas! No, the parcel is not for you. Your daughter has a parcel here. I think it is from her sister in Florida. I can’t get hold of her and I didn’t want her girls to miss their Christmas presents from their Auntie. I’m only here until noon today. If you come down here I’ll give it to you.”
“Thanks, Irena. I’ll be down shortly.”
It’s a story I’ve told to my friends in the city, when they ask me WHY I live out here in the sticks.
I’ll update this post when we’ve heard the decree from on high, some time in December.