ST. HELENA — The only town in Cedar County to have a growth spurt in the last decade is facing the threat of having the doors closed on their post office forever.
The figures released in the 2010 Census showed other towns in the county had a decrease in population while St. Helena had an increase in population from 86 up to 96.
St. Helena’s residents turned out in full force when close to 100 people showed up Oct. 4 to find out if anything could be done to stop the U.S. Postal Service from closing their post office.
Aides for U.S. Senator Mike Johanns and Congressman Adrian Smith were among those who registered at the meeting held at Immaculate Conception Hall in St. Helena and lasted close to three hours.
St. Helena Mayor Victor Paltz was impressed with the turn-out and was happy to see the Congressional aides come to the meeting.
“It shows how important the Post Office is to people,” Paltz said.
The Post Office is more than just a place for the delivery of the mail for St. Helena residents.
People often gather and visit with one another as they stop in to pick up their mail.
“The Post Office is a good place for people to stay and chat for five to ten minutes depending on who else is there,” Paltz said.
Ray Ringlein, representative for Johanns, said the meeting in St. Helena was important to the Senator but he was unable to attend.
“St. Helena is in the top three for the most letters to be received. The Senator’s office has gotten a lot of letters from the people here,” Ringlein said.
A large amount of letters had also come into Congressman Smith’s Office concerning the threat of having the St. Helena Post Office closed.
“It was important for us to come here and listen,” said Todd Crawford, representative for Smith.
Congressman Smith has sent a letter to the Postmaster General urging the agency to account for the impact on local communities when they are considering closing or consolidating a rural mail facility, Crawford told the group.
Jen Miller, who serves on the village board, was happy to see a Senator and a Congressman were interested in what was happening in St. Helena.
“It was nice to have them here. I hope it helps – I think it will,” Miller said. “I know I am going to write some letters.”
Miller did not especially like the survey that had been sent out to St. Helena residents ahead of the meeting.
“It wasn’t that good. It was hard to know how to answer some of the questions,” Miller said.
All of the surveys that are returned from postal customers, notes on comments made at the meeting and “optional comment forms” are available at the Post Office and will become part of an official docket which will be reviewed before the final decision is made on whether the Post Office will be closed or not.
Information will be gathered for 60 days and included in the docket that will be sent to Omaha, and then to Washington, D.C., for a final decision.
During the meeting, employees of the U.S. Postal Service answered questions and told why the St. Helena Post Office, along with over 3,500 other Post Offices located mostly in small towns and rural communities, has been targeted to be shut down.
Dawn Bayer, Area Manager for Post Office Operations, and Theresa Jones, who works in the Norfolk Processing and Distribution Center that also came under review for closing, answered questioned and offered an explanation for the post office closures.
St. Helena resident John Gallagher attended the meeting and asked questions but he had little hope the post office would stay open.
“I think it is a done-deal – I think this is just a way to pacify us,” Gallagher said.
Bayer disagreed and said it was important for people to send letters, return the surveys and make positive comments on the forms.
“If a decision is made to close the soonest the notice could come would be in January, but it could be all the way to April or May before notice is given,” Bayer said.
Bayer explained there is one main reason why the Postal Service is looking at closing a number of post offices across the nation.
“We are broke – that is why,” Bayer said. “We lost $10.5 billion this year. We will not be able to make payroll – we are broke.”
Nationwide the volume of mail for the U.S. Postal Service has dropped by 25 percent. The St. Helena Post Office has lost approximately 30 percent of its volume.
“You are not getting the same amount of mail in your mail boxes. You are not mailing letters, you are not sending those birthday cards and you are paying your bills on-line,” Bayer said. “Every post office has been affected by Facebook, internet, cellphones and electronic messaging.”
Another source for the financial crisis has been caused by a law passed by Congress in 2006 that requires the postal service to pre-fund its future health retirement benefits over a ten-year period, which is something no other agency or company in America is required to this.
The postal service is mired down in regulations and rules from the Postal Regulatory Commission and a union contract that does not allow postal workers to be loose their jobs even when the work load had decreased.
The postal service cannot stop delivering mail on Saturdays to cut costs unless the Commission agrees.
If the worse case scenario happens and St. Helena loses its Post Office – the mail will still go through by a rural route delivery and a “village Post Office” could be created.
“We will ask you to put mail boxes up and we will do a rural delivery. There would be a cluster of six to ten mail boxes in a row. Your mail will still be there everyday,” Bayer said. “The down side of this – you will have to change addresses if you are using a P.O. Box number and use the 911 address.”
Residents would still be able to buy stamps and mail packages out by meeting the carrier at the mail box and there is always the option of using the internet to make purchases.
By going on-line to usp.com residents can purchase stamps, buy postage for packages and request a carrier pick-up.
A “village post office” can be set up in St. Helena but it cannot be located in a place where open bottled alcohol is served or in a vacant building. The building has to be handi-cap accessible.
Residents could purchase Forever Stamps and the owner of the business would get a percentage from the sales.
P.O. boxes could be located inside the building and a blue collection box would be placed outside of the building.
A rural carrier would pick up mail from the blue collection box and put mail in the boxes that are in the “village post office.”
The boxes would only be accessible when the doors on the business were open Bayer said.