Politicians like U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, a Democrat who now represents the Glens Falls area, have to balance the wider public interest with the narrow interests of their constituents.
It’s in the public interest, for example, to eliminate federal subsidies to the U.S. Postal Service and allow it to run as the standalone business it is supposed to be.
But it is in the interests of his constituents in rural towns, such as Hartford, for Mr. Owens to advocate for the preservation of small post offices, even if they operate at losses.
Do away with post offices in places like Hartford and you take away another shred of their dwindling identity as unique communities and force their residents to do even more driving.
But we have to set limits on the subsidizing of rural identity with post offices and schools and other services paid for by a wider population.
It’s unfair to expect the nation’s taxpayers to cover the cost of a post office for a handful of customers in tiny communities in Washington County or the Adirondacks, when the services could be consolidated at substantial savings.
A compromise last year spared several rural post offices in the area from elimination while targeting them for cutbacks in hours. This was trumpeted as a fair compromise by the Postal Service, and it appears to be one, although Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff is now unhappy about the way it’s being implemented.
The Postal Service is planning to open the Hartford post office only in the mornings, but Haff wants it open afternoons and evenings, to make it easier for people with jobs to stop in after work.
The problem with Mr. Haff’s argument is the Hartford office is now open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday. We don’t see how it’s any easier for someone with an 8-to-4 or a 9-to-5 job to get to the post office in the afternoon than in the morning.
The Hartford Town Board has asked for the office to be open from 2 to 6 p.m. daily and 8 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday. If Hartford or any other rural community wants the Postal Service to take the extraordinary step of opening outside normal business hours, then the communities have to be willing to compromise on their ends. What if, for example, the Hartford post office were open from 4 to 6 p.m. daily and Saturday mornings?
What if the Postal Service opened certain rural offices just Saturdays, and sent customers to regional post offices during the week?
We’re not against evening or weekend hours, if they work for the Postal Service financially. We are against money-losing accommodations being made for particular communities that have to be subsidized by the broader base of Postal Service customers or by all U.S. taxpayers.
Even large, busy post offices in this area, such as the one in Glens Falls, are not open in the evenings, yet people manage to get there to conduct their business.
Mr. Owens, to his credit, was recently named to the House Appropriations Committee, which puts him close to many of Congress’ spending decisions. We urge him to use his newfound power to make decisions responsive to all the taxpayers in his district, which will sometimes require saying no to select constituencies that appeal to him for help.
Keeping small rural post offices open is good for a few thousand people, while raising costs for hundreds of thousands. Besides, post offices are no longer the community gathering places they once were, because far fewer people send letters now.
Wireless, digital communication has largely replaced written communication by mail. Stamps can be purchased via the Internet, and so can mailing labels for packages. Living miles from the nearest post office has become less of an inconvenience as postal services have become more available online.
Something wonderful has been lost with the dying out of the letter-writing tradition and the fading away of post offices as public squares. But we can’t afford to cling to a tradition few are following. The Postal Service, like everything else, has to change with the times.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Robert Sledd.