Concerned that the United States Postal Service is proceeding with changes that will lead to the closing of the Greenwood Post Office, members of the Greenwood Citizens Council are organizing to save their threatened community landmark. Greenwood has had a post office since the 1840s. It moved to its current location when the Greenwood train depot was closed in 1960. It now serves about 600 residents and 275 delivery addresses.
“The Greenwood Citizens Council has existed for 30 years,” said Scott Peyton, one of the leaders of the effort to save the P.O. “It has a history of tilting at windmills. It opposed the closing of Greenwood Elementary School [a fight it lost] and the contamination from the Greenwood Chemical Company, which became an EPA Superfund site and was cleaned up. We’re all volunteers. We try to represent the community. We’re a classic case of a grassroots organization.
“We heard rumors in the spring that we were being considered for closure, and I’m convinced of it,” Peyton said.
Greenwood P.O. services could be altered by what the U.S.P.S. calls a PostPlan (post office structure plan), which would reduce its hours and days of operation, and by what the U.S.P.S. calls DUO (delivery unit optimization), a reduction in the actual P.O. functions. Mail sorting and rural delivery routes would become the responsibility of Crozet Post Office.
According to a rating system the U.S.P.S. uses, Peyton said, once these plans are put into effect, the Greenwood P.O.’s rating would fall below the threshold for continuing to exist. PostPlan and DUO are thus the opening moves toward undermining the P.O.’s existence, though so far U.S.P.S. officials say it will not be closed.
“We have many customers for our post office who are diverse in age and economic situation,” said Peyton, “and they have difficulty driving long distances.
“The post office is inextricably linked to a rural community’s sense of identity,” Peyton said. “No place but the post office carries the name of a place officially.”
A delegation from the Greenwood Citizens Council met with U.S.P.S. officials in Richmond recently and learned that the Greenwood Post Office continues to operate at a profit, as it has traditionally.
“The problem for the U.S.P.S. is that in 2006 Congress mandated that it prefund its pension fund and retirement health costs at 100 percent,” said Peyton. The annual cost of that amounts to $5.5 billion. It’s an exceptional requirement and not one that public agencies or the states usually meet, 80 percent being typical for the AAA bond rating.
Peyton said some people speculate that the requirement is meant to cause the U.S.P.S. to fail so that it can be privatized. But the U.S.P.S. is obliged to serve every delivery address every day of operation and it is not clear that a private delivery company would want to take on that responsibility. The U.S.P.S. is created in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. It has a legal monopoly on first class mail. According to its documents, Peyton said, as of 2011 it operates from 31,000 locations across the nation, 3,000 of which are in rural areas.
“We’ve gotten into this and educated ourselves,” he said. “We see we are caught up in a government bureaucracy and a lack of business common sense.”
Six members of the GCC went to Washington to talk to Fifth District congressman Robert Hurt and representatives of Virginia’s senators, Peyton said. “We learned there are some deep political issues embedded in this.” He credited Hurt with being responsive to their concerns and contacting the U.S.P.S. in defense of the Greenwood post office. The Fifth District contains many rural P.O.s. The U.S.P.S. is currently intending to close 100 post offices in Virginia.
When GCC members met in Richmond with U.S.P.S. Virginia Western District manager Jacob Cheeks, he agreed to suspend implementation of DUO.
“We naively interpreted this as removing the threat, but it was just a postponement. We are now under review again to have our hours reduced from eight to six per day and to close for a half day on Saturdays.” The P.O. is staffed now by Mandy Connelly, who is part time and receives no benefits. The last regular postmistress was Joyce Dudley, who retired over a year ago.
“Cheeks said it’s all about revenue,” Peyton said, “but Greenwood’s revenue is up 16 percent in the last year. We committed to him to help build more revenue for it. If it were failing, I could see it being reduced. We told him we do not want an adversarial relationship with the U.S.P.S. We value our post office.”
The U.S.P.S. will hold a meeting at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church parish hall in Greenwood January 9 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the Post Plan. They had originally scheduled a meeting for December 3 at 4 p.m. in the parking lot in front of the post office, a time that Peyton felt was not actually meant to get community input, but that meeting was rescheduled after protest from the GCC.
“They are supposed to do a survey. It’s directed to an already established conclusion. It asks which hours we want to be reduced to. It’s not really an open process,” Peyton said. The GCC drafted its own community survey and found overwhelming support for keeping the post office as it is now, he said.
“They are trying to kill us softly in progressive steps. If implemented, DUO would reduce our rating to a level that would mean we would be closed. We are still under review for it. It’s not a public process and there is no opportunity for public input. We were blindsided by the news of DUO,” Peyton said.
“If DUO is implemented, the post office will be less useful and its revenue will fall. It will be less profitable and then in danger for closure. We adamantly oppose both DUO and PostPlan. We’ve been thrown into a pot of rural post offices that does not look at profitability. We should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.” Peyton said that from what he has learned, the U.S.P.S.’s better option is to raise the price of first class stamps to 50 cents each.
“Our location is at a main crossroads for Greenwood. It is serving people who come from outside our zip code, including Crozet people. The G.P.O. has the capacity to expand service, for example along Greenwood Road to Jarmans Gap Road.” Peyton said growth in Crozet may tax the ability of the Crozet post office, especially if it is also given responsibilities now handled by neighboring rural post offices. Peyton said that Greenwood, which has 30 available boxes, could add more and could relieve pressure on Crozet’s post office. Its lease is on terms highly favorable to the U.S.P.S., he said.
“We are not part of their problem. We are part of their solution. We are a profitable P.O.”
The GCC drafted a petition to the U.S Postmaster General calling for the G.P.O. to be left alone and so far 400 area residents have signed it. Peyton said the GCC’s aim for the Jan. 9 meeting is to prevent a reduction in hours at Greenwood. “The status quo is our goal.”
He is hoping for a strong turnout.