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Whither the Post Office?

Questions about the fate of our local post office abound on NextDoor Leschi. The post office has a long and illustrious history of meeting the needs of the citizens to move their mail, later their packages and even helping them to bank for many decades.

Our first postmaster was the genius, Benjamin Franklin, who had been appointed postmaster of Philadelphia by the crown a few years earlier. He sped up mail service by improving the routes and then by sending out mail riders both day and night. He also mandated that the mail riders carry newspapers for a fee, thus improving communications between the colonies as well as the people. Probably this did him in, as the newspapers were more critical in the days before the revolution than the Dear Mom letters. He was removed from this position about a year after his appointment as “being too sympathetic to the colonists.”

Postal inspectors went to great lengths to improve mail service: mail steamboats, pony express, boats, sleds, snowshoes, mule trains in the Grand Canyon, flat-bottomed boats in the Louisiana bayous, dog sleds in Alaska until 1963 and now mail is dropped by parachute there. Snowmobiles are used in heavy snow country…should Seattle consider one or more of these?

RFD (rural free delivery) was started in 1891 with the current postmaster declaring that it “made more sense for one person to deliver mail than for 50 folks to come in to town to the local post office.” Parcel Post was authorized in 1912 when citizens became “enraged by the exorbitant prices charged by the private companies.” (Congress listened to the people in those olden days.) In 1911, the Postal Savings program was begun with deposits earning 2% interest. It wasn’t until after World War II that banks raised their interest rates and Postal savings declined. The program ended in 1967. The minimum deposit was only $1; try that at your local bank.

“Mr. Zip” was initiated in 1962, which helped to better sort mail for quicker delivery.

There have been attempts in later years to privatize the post office. When Nixon was President, a study showed that it would be too expensive and plans were dropped. But under the Bush II presidency the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed in 2003. This requires the post office to save health benefit costs for retired employees but due to the amount required, the postal service is paying for future employees that have not yet been born. No other agency has been required to do this. What private companies do this? So, even though the post office makes a profit these days, the money is sucked into this fund and doesn’t appear as profit on their books.

I have always suspected this was a device to bring about the privatization of the post office which means a private company would do only what is profitable. Goodbye rural free delivery! If one chooses to live in a remote area, just deal with it—just as you have dealt with the disappearance of the Greyhound bus from your community.

One comment on NextDoor Leschi echoed my own experience. This writer had used a private mail service to mail a package of a size he had frequently sent at the now defunct post office. The cost was much more. My experience was similar; I mailed a large envelope with reading material and the quoted price was so much that I must have looked at the clerk in disbelief. She said, “Let me try something else” and offered me a lower price, which was still double what I had been paying at the post office. I begrudgingly went ahead with the transaction but wished I had my post office back. The P.O. has strict regulations and I always felt confident that I was paying what everyone else was paying; as I am not a haggler, it was comforting.

I have called Rep. Adam Smith’s office and they are well aware of the problem but have found it difficult trying to negotiate with the post office and with Lake Union Partners as well. His office is also aware that trying to divert us to the Broadway Post office is a losing proposition…no parking. Smith’s office is drafting a letter of concern to the post office and promised to keep us informed on any progress, which we will note in our future newsletters.

~Diane Snell

Editor’s note: The facts and quotes that appear in this editorial come from an 84-page history of the post office I found online. The snarky comments are mine alone. The history is a little disconcerting. It has been divided into chapters, which cover certain topics so you may finish one chapter in modern times and jump back to 1860 in the next chapter. There is exciting stuff on the robberies by outlaw gangs but I had the feeling that I saw more of those at the Saturday afternoon matinées than actually happened.

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