Officials convene, Steamboat considers lawsuit as frustrations with U.S. Postal Service continue
After meeting with the U.S. Postal Service last week, residents and government officials are looking for new approaches to resolve delivery problems in Steamboat Springs and other Colorado mountain communities.
“It’s just sporadic,” said Susie Allen, a South Routt resident who has not seen regular deliveries to her mailbox since early December. “They keep saying it’s getting better, but I haven’t seen it.”
Allen is not alone. She said her neighbors who live in the Catamount area received their Christmas cards in the mail last week.
“This has been December, January and February, so it’s been over two months,” Allen said. “It’s not getting better.”
James Boxrud, a communication specialist with the Postal Service, said that despite the continued flow of complaints coming from the community, there are efforts underway to improve service and get residents their mail.
“It sounded like we were getting pretty close to getting all the mail caught up — if not caught up on Sunday — but who knows what difference a day makes,” he said. “It could be another nightmare today, or they could be doing good.”
He said that the Postal Service has brought in outside people to help the short-staffed office in Steamboat get caught up with the mail. He said the Postal Service is also still seeking employees to work in Steamboat Springs but didn’t have any updates on where the local post office was in the hiring process.
The problems in Steamboat Springs and other mountain communities have gotten so bad that on Tuesday, Feb. 7, City Manager Gary Suiter said he would present to City Council the idea of joining a lawsuit led by Crested Butte.
“I just wanted to bring it to their attention, that it’s out there,” Suiter said. “I told the town manager of Crested Butte I’ll bring it up (Tuesday night), and I’d get back to her and let her know.”
Suiter said he wasn’t sure how City Council would react to the proposal, and that council members would have to weigh the cost with the possible outcome. The cost would be between $25,000 and $35,000, Suiter said, and could be split between seven other municipalities. Suiter is also hoping to find out if City Council would want to cap the amount that Steamboat Springs might contribute.
“I’m not holding up high hopes, but it might be a way to get their attention. I don’t know what the courts could do if we sued the post office,” Suiter said. “It’s hard to imagine what the courts could mandate. … Do the courts say, ‘OK, hire more workers?’”
The issues in Steamboat Springs have also garnered the attention of Routt County commissioners, as well as the office of Rep. Joe Neguse and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. Those groups were part of a meeting with Boxrud last week that Commissioner Tim Corrigan described as disappointing.
“It was certainly an opportunity for those of us here locally to express to the Postal Service our complete and utter dissatisfaction with the service levels that they provide,” Corrigan said. “I was quite disappointed and registered my disappointment in fairly stern language. Their responses were totally inadequate, and primarily amounted to excuse-making for why they are unable to provide the services that they’re required by their own policies to provide.”
Corrigan felt the Postal Service, which sent a public relations person rather than a supervisory management position to the meeting, came with a long list of excuses for why it has been unable to provide reasonable service.
“We’ve heard a lot about how they’re unable to hire and retain postal service, and of course, that has a lot to do with their pay scale,” Corrigan said. “We heard a lot about how they’re unable to hire and retain contract delivery contractors — and again that has a lot to do with the the structure of remuneration for those contractors.”
He said he sees the Postal Service’s problems in Steamboat as a management problem.
“Everybody struggles with these issues, but the difference here is that this is not a private business or a restaurant where you may need to wait 30 minutes to get a table or you may need to stand in line to receive some other service; this is a function of the government of the United States that they are obligated to provide. It’s not as if they don’t have the resources to get it done. This is just a failure of commitment by Postal Service management to address these issues in any kind of a timely manner.”
Corrigan said he was concerned at the start of the winter because the Colorado Department of Transportation was struggling to find employees but was amazed at how CDOT addressed the issue and continued to keep the roads open and clear.
“This is a critical piece of public infrastructure,” Corrigan said of the Postal Service. “I mean the county runs a couple of water and sewer systems, and we have those operational. We have to do it. We plow hundreds of miles of road, and it is not an option for us not do it. We have to do it — whatever it takes.”
Allen said she has had some success going into the Steamboat Springs Post Office, standing in line and begging the mail clerks to see if they can find her deliveries. She said she was able to get a couple of packages and last week got eight letters that had been sent recently.
At 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Allen texted this message to the Steamboat Pilot & Today celebrating something that many people take for granted.
“FYI we got mail,” Allen wrote. “Woohoo.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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