Postal Service woes resurrect fears of Old Auburn Station A closure threat

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer and AP
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With the U.S. Postal Service hemorrhaging red ink, there are rising concerns that Auburn’s current level of service could be cut. The latest inkling of changes afoot came Monday, when President Barack Obama said the U.S. Postal Service should be allowed to reduce mail delivery to five-days-a-week to help cut its massive losses. The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last year and is facing even more red ink this year as the Internet siphons off large amounts of first-class mail and the weak economy reduces advertising mail. At Auburn’s Postal Station A, box holder Tom Burness said any Postal Service changes should not include closing the Old Town location, said to be the oldest post office west of the Mississippi in continual operation. “If you want to keep a small-town atmosphere, you want to keep a small-town post office,” Burness said. “And with its history, how could anyone possibly think of closing it?” One of Auburn’s last living links to the Gold Rush, closure would end a connection to Station A’s James Block location that’s recorded by local historians to go back to as early as 1851 or 1852. Station A is not a potential closure target by the U.S. Postal Service this year. Gold Run post office, 35 miles east of Auburn, is the lone Placer County location listed. Pat Sparks, who has worked at Station A for a year, said that customers continue to show concern. “They’re asking whether we’re going to shut down – if we’re next,” Sparks said. “We’re a contract station so it would be cost-effective to keep us open. But people are still worried.” Fourteen years ago, Station A was in danger of closing during a round of cutbacks. It stayed open after the Postal Service agreed to restructure its contract and Old Town merchants provided help with the lease. The moves dovetailed with a street protest by supporters and intervention by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and then-Rep. John Doolittle. Another threat to closing was averted in 1982. While the post office has cut more than 100,000 workers in the last few years it needs to cut more, close offices and find other ways to reduce costs to keep operating. In his economic growth and debt reduction plan unveiled Monday, Obama endorsed the idea of dropping one day of mail delivery — it is expected to be Saturday — and urged other changes in postal operations He agreed that nearly $7 billion the post office has overpaid into the federal retirement system should be refunded to the agency, urged that its payments for advance funding of retiree medical benefits be restructured, and said the post office should be allowed to sell non-postal products and raise postage rates. Currently the post office cannot raise rates more than the amount of inflation. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the president “has offered helpful recommendations to stabilize the Postal Service’s financial crisis.” Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes said he could live without Saturday delivery but the loss of Station A would be a blow to Auburn. One way to support the post office is to rent a box there, he said. “We need to keep this place going,” Holmes said. “I’m going to rent one myself. Every little bit helps.” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has his own postal reform bill in the House, said that “the president’s proposal is not what taxpayers or the Postal Service needs.” He asserted that Obama’s plan “will certainly cost taxpayers money.” Currently the post office does not receive tax funds for its operations. Meanwhile, 75 members of Congress led by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Don Young, R-Alaska, called on the independent Postal Regulatory Commission to block the post office’s plans to close as many as 3,700 local offices across the country. The proposed closures, most in rural locations that do little business, are currently under review. The letter called for establishment of a new business model for the post office without closing offices and cutting its work force.