Post office to enforce 'sack' fee for users

Neglected mailboxes will be subject to fine

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— Too much of a good thing could land postal patrons a hefty fee in the future.

People who choose to ignore the mail piling up in their mailboxes at either of the Steamboat Springs post offices face a substantial price increase for their inattention.

A recent financial audit revealed the two post offices were losing money in man hours spent on dealing with overflowing mailboxes.

Postmaster Bill Butler, in response to the audit, posted notices May 28 to remind patrons to pick up their mail on a regular basis or expect to pay more for their mailbox service.

"I would like to raise their (mailbox holders') consciousness," he said. "They need to come in regularly."

The post office shouldn't be required to pay for those extra labor costs, Butler said.

Postal workers must take extra time to remove excess mail and store it elsewhere until customers come for their neglected piles.

The audit requires that Butler conduct random volume checks to determine which mailboxes are overflowing.

If he finds a mailbox overflowing three out of five days, the customer will be notified and the mailbox will be monitored another 20 days.

If the same mailbox is found to be overflowing 12 out of 20 days, the customer must pay for "sack service."

Sack service translates to a $375 fee for six months.

That fee increases June 30 to $450 for six months, in accordance with nationwide U.S. Postal Service price increases.

Sack service is not a new practice at the post office, Butler said.

Patrons are obligated to rent a larger space when the volume of their mail dos not fit in the standard-sized mailbox, he said.

A 3 1/2 by 5-inch mailbox can only hold so much.

"It holds a subsequent amount of mail, but if you don't come in and pick it up it's going to get full," Butler said.

Audits, which come periodically and without notice, determine where post offices can save money by doing things more efficiently.

He stressed the sack service charge was not a fine, but an appropriate fee for the service rendered.

"It's what I'm required to do," he said.

Sack service grants customers the liberty of picking up their mail more infrequently.

Mail that overflows must be stored somewhere at the post office, and the post office has little room for excess mail, Butler said.

People about to go on vacation should notify the post office of their absence, and the post office will hold their mail up to 30 days.

An additional 30 days could possibly be granted through some negotiation, Butler said.

People pay $17 a year for a standard-size mailbox.

That rate, however, will also increase to $24, effective June 30.

Butler informed auditors he would address the problem of overflowing mailboxes.

He said he realized the notice might cause some people heartburn, so he posted the notices in late May to give customers prior warning of the charge.

People have a right to appeal the charge, but that appeal must first go to Washington. In the meantime, the charge must still be paid.

Even with the notices, Butler said he expects problems associated with customers not picking up their mail on a regular basis will persist.

"It's always been a headache," he said. "You learn to live with things and ignore them."

But he cannot ignore the audit report, he said.

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