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Is the post toast? It doesn’t have to be

October 3, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

Keene Valley residents needed a dose of good news in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, and they got it when the U.S. Postal Service agreed to once again locate a post office in the 500-person hamlet.

Their 10-mile round-trip mail runs to Keene will soon be over.

Better yet, since the post office will be in a local general store, McDonough's Valley Hardware, they can combine those mail runs with errands to pick up a few things they need. How much more vintage Americana can you get these days? Now all McDonough's needs is a checkerboard on a barrel.

Valley Grocery also applied to host the post office, and it would have been a great location, too. We're glad both store owners stepped up to serve the community in this way.

Keene Valley is the kind of small town that uses a post office much more than is normal anymore in this country, so we're thrilled that the Postal Service opened itself up to this new model of putting a "village post office" in a local shop. It was just on the verge of making everyone in Keene Valley use locking "cluster boxes," which would have been OK but nowhere near as good.

But this is all microcosmic talk. The real issue is not whether Keene Valley keeps a post office but whether the United States keeps a postal service. USPS announced Friday that it lost $10 billion last fiscal year, and Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe has warned Congress that the agency is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Federal leaders are talking about saving the Postal Service by eliminating Saturday delivery and letting it close thousands of facilities. It has a list of 3,600 post offices and 250 processing centers it may close. That includes 12 post offices in the Adirondacks: in Bakers Mills, Cranberry Lake, Dickinson Center, Fine, Hoffmeister, Moriah Center, New Russia, Newton Falls, North River, Piercefield, Wanakena and Wevertown.

To survive in these and future times, the Postal Service will probably have to make these sacrifices and then some. Getting rid of the agency's long track record of waste - often, ironically, done in the name of efficiency - should be job number one, but that may not be enough.

Of all the ideas we've heard floated out there about ways to save the mail, here's the one we think is most appropriate: Charge people to receive it, not just send it, and charge more to receive it at home.

We don't know about your letter carriers, but the ones who deliver to our homes are amazing: kind, friendly, consistent and willing to go out of their way, even to walk up steep driveways for old people who are not so mobile anymore. That level of service is worth a massive amount of money, and a business that's about to go under shouldn't be throwing it in as a free add-on.

If you couldn't afford or don't want to pay for home delivery, you could pay a smaller flat fee for a P.O. box (more for a bigger one) and do the work of getting the mail from the post office to your home yourself.

Or, at the most basic level, general delivery, you could pay for each item that comes in for you.

Considering that we pay for comparable utilities like electricity, water/sewer, phones, cable television and Internet, mail is a reasonable thing to have to pay for.

Also consider that the alternative is to lose the Postal Service entirely.

If, using this plan, the Postal Service were to start actually making money, perhaps it could reopen some post offices, bring back Saturday delivery and lower its rates - things that would make customers want to use it more.

Many people wouldn't miss the Postal Service if it died, but its loss would cut deeper than they realize. Electronic communication is vulnerable to exploitation by hackers, criminals, corporations and national governments. People mostly ignore this, but if you want to scare yourself with an inconvenient truth, look up the Conficker worm, developed by a criminal organization that by now may have the power to dominate or shut down much of the Internet worldwide. We're not saying not to rely on the Internet or electronic communication - we certainly do - but it's less grounded and therefore inherently riskier than the mail.

Times change, but hard copies are still needed.



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