Steamboat Springs Postmaster Bill Butler has found a way to get residents to pick up their mail more frequently hit them with big fees when they don't.
Recently, signs have been posted at Steamboat's post office locations detailing a little-known postal regulation Butler says "will be adhered to in this office."
The sign says the post office is going to randomly audit post office boxes and owners of boxes found to be overflowing with mail for 12 out of 20 days will be assessed a fee of $375. The fee, ostensibly used to pay someone to bundle the mail over the next six months, rises to $450 on June 30.
The sign doesn't sit well with us. In most communities around the country, mail is delivered to homes free of charge. Here, residents are often forced to pay $24 a year for post office box service because delivery is not available in their area. They already have to go out of their way to get their mail, and now they are being told they will be charged stiff fees if they don't do it often enough.
We're not saying the post office doesn't have a beef. Most of the boxes are small, so only a few days' mail can accumulate before the post office has to begin bundling and holding the mail. That costs manpower, and Butler said an audit of his office required him to start recouping that manpower cost.
But is it really necessary for the post office to threaten its customers with a $450 fee? Why not contact the worst violators by phone, explain the problem to them and give offenders the chance to mend their ways? Why not launch a public education campaign and measure the results?
The post office made another decision that rankled residents recently. When the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center offered to replace the Spring Creek bridge connecting the parking lots of the center and the post office, Butler said the postal service doesn't want the bridge on post office property. Butler said the bridge is a liability and that it encourages Health and Recreation Center patrons to park in the post office lot and walk to the center. But even without the bridge, center patrons likely will still park in the post office lot and use the sidewalk. Plus, why not allow for overflow parking when the post office is closed on evenings and Sundays?
The foot bridge provided convenient access for health and recreation patrons to go check their mail after working out, and in a small way, encouraged residents to check their mail more frequently. Isn't that what the post office wants?
"The bridge is not bringing extra dollars and cents in here for our business," Butler said in defending the post office's stance. But what Butler seems to have overlooked is that the post office's business is the public's business, and the public's best interests ought to be weighed against those of the postal service. It's not clear that happened in the case of the post office box fees or the foot bridge.