Move Beyond the Post Office Setback
By Doug Lapins
Special to The Pilot
Since I am the only Pinehurst Village Council member who is not running for office, it might be useful that I address some of the rhetoric and misinformation relating to the closure of the core village post office station.
From the broad U.S. Postal Service perspective, all they could see were two post offices to service a town of 15,000 when they are hemorrhaging losses of more than $5 billion per year. Although the village PO has been on their closure radar for several years, I believe that the final decision was driven by public relations reasons and based on flawed bureaucratic logic and economics.
The closure calculations by USPS project savings of $96,000 per year, which assumed that all patrons would simply move to the Blake Street station. It ignored the cost of door-to-door delivery to village merchants and streetside delivery to residents, both of which have been implemented. Actual savings will prove to be minimal when true costs finally emerge.
Nor does the closure decision in Pinehurst and elsewhere begin to deal with the USPS deficit issue. Do the math: If 3,000 stations are closed throughout the country and each closure saves $100,000 per year, that represents $300 million per year - a significant saving, but hardly a dent in the $5 billion deficit.
A steadily declining mail volume, restrictive labor contract, and huge pension liabilities are continuing economic burdens that closures do not alleviate. The reality is that the past business model for the USPS is not viable, and Congress must decide if the USPS is to be a profit-driven business or a government service.
I consider the downtown post office to have been an important factor in the vitality of our village - and its loss a significant setback.
Hoping to build public support for continuing service as the closure drama played itself out, I notified more than 50 residents that it was to be discussed at a council work session. Expecting a large public turnout and support, I was disappointed when no more than six advocates attended. And one local merchant even suggested that an Italian restaurant would be a better use of the post office building.
Throughout the process, I have recognized that delaying closure was a -holding action and not the long-term solution.
At various times, I have also proposed an alternate in which the village of Pinehurst would support some form of public/private partnership to provide mail service in the core village. In this partnership, the post office building could house a number of functions which would enhance the village.
These could include, but not be limited to, a commercial mail center with mailboxes and window service; a mini-convenience store for newspapers and sundries; a more centrally located visitors' center; public restrooms; and even a ticket outlet for area functions. Unfortunately in their zeal to close the station, USPS was unwilling to engage in a constructive discussion of these (or other) options.
From my standpoint today, we can continue to bemoan the loss of the USPS facility or instead view it as an opportunity to enhance the village. The building will soon come up for sale. Substantial tax credits are available for private investment to rehab historic buildings such as the post office building.
By working together with the private sector, we can develop a more successful long-term model to bring back the vitality that we lost in the closure.
Douglas Lapins is a member of the Pinehurst Village Council.
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