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December 22, 2011 9:21 am

EDITORIAL: Reprieve for small post offices

Written by Don Amend

The recent postponement of plans to close nearly 3,800 small post offices around the nation is welcome, but it may give only temporary relief to small communities, including four in the Big Horn Basin.

The fiscal problems facing the U.S. Postal Service all have been well publicized. It is losing money — about $100 million every week — and some sort of action to stop the financial hemorrhage of cash is necessary.

As is usual in such a situation, there is no solution to the problem that won’t cause pain. Higher postage rates would increase business expenses and be a hardship to low-income people already suffering in the poor economy, and cutting services would also impact business.

The closing of numerous small post offices, each of which employs a postmaster and at least a part-time person to fill in when the postmaster is ill or on vacation, definitely would save money. But the impact of such cuts would fall almost entirely on small communities, such as Deaver and Byron, and the cuts would have even more serious effects on more remote communities, such as Hyattville.

That’s why our own fiscally conservative Congressional delegation, as well as Gov. Matt Mead, have asked the postmaster general to reconsider the closings.

The Postal Service is about the only government agency aside from the military that is specifically authorized in the U.S. Constitution, and until the early 1960s was run politically and supported by tax dollars. On the theory that the service would operate better and more economically if it was run as a business, it was turned into a government-owned corporation and required to pay for itself. The current situation is in large part due to that change.

In effect, the Postal Service is doing what most other corporations have done over the years: closing offices in small towns and consolidating its operations in larger offices.

That’s the way a business, particularly one as big as the Postal Service, works. Fiscally, that makes sense, but in practical terms, it will be detrimental to small rural communities around the nation, particularly those with less than adequate Internet access and long distances to travel to the next post office.

That same change has weakened our ability to influence the Postal Service politically, so the efforts of our Congressional delegation may not be successful.

The best we can hope for is that, if the Postal Service must close rural post offices, it finds a way to provide reasonable service to those small communities at a lower cost.

We hope such a solution is being researched.

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