Sorting through a controversy
CENTRAL POINT — Residents and workers alike contend the U.S. Postal Service's plans to downsize the local office will inconvenience customers, put a burden on letter carriers and could end up costing more money in the long run.
The U.S. Postal Service announced this month that the 8,000-square-foot building at 625 E. Pine St. will be sold and the post office relocated to a 3,000-square-foot building once a suitable facility is found. The downsizing will mean letter carriers will have to drive to the Postal Service's sorting facility off Sage Road in Medford to pick up their loads.
Customer Jean Weets, who's lived downtown near the post office for more than four decades, compared the plan to "selling a car you already own to rent one until the money runs out."
"It doesn't make any sense to anyone to sell something you own outright and to pay to be somewhere else that's even smaller," she said.
Jim Alexander, president of the Southern Oregon Area Postal Workers Union, said the union had filed a grievance against USPS claiming cramped and unsafe conditions at the Sage Road facility, where letter carriers throughout the valley have been relocated as part of the organization's efforts to downsize and reduce costs.
"We already have letter carriers and workers so cramped the union has filed a grievance," Alexander said. "The space requirements are not sufficient and they're still going to add 20 more employees" with the relocation of the Central Point office.
Randy White, Portland-based area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the Sage Road facility has received three inspections over five years. These resulted in one serious violation with a $2,000 fine, four nonformal complaints resolved as inquiries, and two "other than serious" violations — including one issued March 30 for a lack of evacuation routes that has since been resolved.
Russ Rainey, a real estate project manager for the USPS based in Denver, hosted a public open house earlier this month to collect feedback and told citizens that services would remain at existing levels despite the relocation to a smaller building.
Resident Kathy York, who bought her house for its close proximity to downtown banks and the post office, said she didn't think Rainey sufficiently answered questions on the benefits of downsizing the Pine Street facility or how services could remain the same in another building less than half its size.
"I don't think anyone believes this will do anyone any good or that it will cost the Postal Service less money to lease a building when they already own one," York said.
"He told us to write to our elected officials and tell them how important the post office is to us. They said if the sale goes through, they'll have 30 days to hear from the public but they sent this guy from Denver who didn't really have any answers to any of our questions and really didn't care about Central Point."
Paul Rodriguez, a Medford letter carrier and union member, said opting for a short-term cash infusion over maintaining existing facilities was short-sighted.
"What's going on right now is extremely detrimental to the public and to the entitlement of mail delivery that's been an institution for 236 years," he said.
"This isn't just about our livelihood but about serving the public to the best of our ability. From the main office to start of my route used to be about 30 seconds, and now it's 20 minutes each way and I'm incurring overtime, extra gas is being spent. ... There is no savings and they're basically trying to fit two cars into a one-car garage."
Mayor Hank Williams voiced concerns that postal officials were giving conflicting information to the city and to citizens.
"We were not real happy with the guy they sent all the way from Denver to talk to the council for five minutes. ... He told the council what he was going to do and then told citizens the next day that the council has some say in all of this, that we could stop them if they didn't like where they wanted to put it," Williams said.
Williams said he could see the logic in a smaller location but that, for citizens' sakes, services should remain the same. He added, "He did say that there would be no reduction in service, period. I guess we'll see."
USPS officials said a 30-day comment period would follow any decision to sell the Pine Street property or to relocate existing mail services.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org