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SGF Post Office2
Postal employee Jerry McKenna ships a package for Rita Kopp at the South Glens Falls Post Office on Tuesday afternoon. The U.S. Postal Service is planning to close the Main Street facility located in the Midtown Plaza. Lydia Wheeler

On Wednesday, the U.S. Postal Service announced it will save $800 million this year by no longer contributing to its employees' pension fund.

The $800 million savings represents just 10 percent of what the agency needs to do to close an $8 billion deficit. It highlights just how far the 21st century pony express needs to go to make itself solvent again, and how deep it will have to cut if it has any chances of righting itself.

So residents in South Glens Falls who are upset about the planned closure of their little post office shouldn't be surprised, nor should they expect to get any relief from their complaints.

The notoriously inefficient and bloated Postal Service has been on a path to insolvency for years -- a path greased by the explosion of computerized bill-paying and banking, e-cards, eBay, private mailing retailers, personalized curriers, the growth of nationwide shipping companies, and the decline in retail catalog advertising.

Even the Postal Service itself is contributing to its own obsolescence, offering stamps, shipping boxes and envelopes online.

You no longer need to go there exclusively to purchase a money order, obtain a passport or even secure a private mailbox. Grocery stores, government offices and private shippers take up the slack.

Once they put the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue online, the die was cast.

But somehow, the government will manage to save the Postal Service.

Despite its financial problems, the 236-year-old institution is still the nation's second largest civilian employer (behind Walmart) and is still the largest private purchaser of vehicles in the United States, with more than 218,000 trucks and cars on the road. In a sense, the Postal Service is as much a jobs program for postal and auto workers as it is a means of distributing information.

So it will be saved. But that means it's going to have to become more responsive to the dwindling number of people it serves.

For that, Postal Service officials should look at the South Glens Falls situation as a microcosm of its problems and an incubator for possible solutions.

The post office in South Glens Falls is hardly your traditional post office. It's tucked in a tiny corner of the tiny Midtown Shopping Center, right next to the Dollar Tree store. One of the reasons it's needed is because businesses need to access post office boxes. And the reason so many people in South Glens Falls need post office boxes is because of the screwy way the Postal Service assigns ZIP Codes.

Because of overlapping ZIP Code areas that have no rational connection to municipal boundaries, a residence or business located in Moreau is likely to have a Fort Edward mailing address. Another resident might be listed as living in Gansevoort, which is little more than a dot on the map at the intersection of routes 50 and 32.

The post office in South Glens Falls isn't where it is because it's a community hub; it's there for post office boxes. And the reason businesses and residents need post office boxes is because their street addresses don't jibe with their actual locations. If you can't find a business, it's difficult to patronize it. This problem is prevalent throughout the country, particularly in suburbs of big cities like Atlanta, where small towns actually lose sales tax revenue because of the Postal Service's zany ZIP zoning.

That's one thing that needs to change if the postal service is to retain some relevancy.

Another is making the services available in more convenient locations where people actually go, like supermarkets, malls and government offices. Such places could also double as centralized collection and drop-off points. Why does the Postal Service need its own private buildings when most of what it does can be handled at the courtesy counter at Hannaford?

The organization also needs to stop Saturday mail delivery. No one -- businesses or residents -- need mail on Saturday. It would save the Postal Service millions while inconveniencing hardly anyone.

The Postal Service can't completely blame the Internet and UPS for its woes. It brought much of its problems upon itself.

If it's going to be saved, it's going to have to do more than stop addressing employee pensions. It's going to have to start addressing the public's needs.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant.

 

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