Changes ahead for postal service |

Changes ahead for postal service

Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily TribuneNeil Lake delivers mail at the post office on Al Tahoe Boulevard on Thursday morning. Cardboard covers the back of post office boxes no longer in use.

From Snowshoe Thompson’s legendary cross-country ski journeys between Genoa and Placerville to the Pony Express rides connecting Missouri and California, mail delivery has a rich history in South Lake Tahoe.

But with the U.S. Postal Service facing a financial crisis, changes could be on the way for its South Shore patrons. The owner of the building that houses the Bijou post office has expressed concerns about its future, but postal service officials say the fate of the branch is still undecided.

Last week in Washington D.C., Postmaster General John Potter told a Senate hearing that the postal service has lost $4.7 billion so far this year and expects to be $7 billion short of expectations by the end of the fiscal year.

The recession, along with a 2006 requirement that the postal service contribute $5 billion annually to prepay medical benefits to retired workers and a movement of letters and bills to e-mail, are reasons behind the shortfall, Potter said.

Closing some post offices, dropping home delivery on Saturdays and adding services not traditionally associated with post offices are areas that need to be considered to cut costs and raise revenue, Potter said.

“We have a network of 37,000 retail outlets. America loves them and we want to keep as many open as possible, but we cannot just sell stamps in them,” Potter said.

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About 700 metropolitan post offices are being studied for closure or consolidation. Although no local offices are on that list, their absence doesn’t necessarily mean the branches are in the clear, said Denver-based U.S. Postal Service spokesman David Rupert.

Although Rupert has given assurances that post offices in Carson Valley won’t consolidate, he gave no such guarantees for the South Shore.

“We’re just keeping all of our options open right now, nothing one way or another with that,” said Rupert, a Whittell High School graduate. “Honestly, we’re looking at all of our facilities.”

In South Lake Tahoe, mail volume has been down 20 percent during the past year and post office box rentals are down 8 percent over the past two years, Rupert said.

Russell Hitomi, the owner of the building at 3368 Sandy Way occupied by the Bijou post office, has expressed concerns that the postal service won’t renew its lease for the building, which expires in June. Discussions with the postal service have led him to believe the branch is slated for closure, Hitomi said.

The building has housed the post office for more than 30 years, Hitomi said.

“I hope the people there would want that post office to be there because it has been there for a long time and I think it serves its purpose,” Hitomi said.

The postal service is in negotiations with Hitomi about renewing the lease for the post office – which is located just more than a mile from the post office on Al Tahoe Boulevard, Rupert said. A final decision regarding the future of the Bijou post office has not been made, Rupert added.

Branches that have overlapping coverage areas are likely to be those most vulnerable to consolidation, Rupert said.

“We’re just going to look at that because it has got to meet our needs as well as our customers’ needs,” Rupert said.

On July 1, the Bijou post office changed its hours, closing its counter from noon to 2 p.m. The reduction in hours was one of the cost-cutting measures that are going on around the country, Rupert said.

Before closing a post office, the postal service must provide 60 days notice to allow customers to express their views regarding the closure, according to an e-mail from Norm Scherstrom, a spokesman for the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Although postal service staffing has been reduced nationwide, layoffs have not hit the South Lake Tahoe post offices, said Janet Twyman, delivery supervisor for the Al Tahoe and Bijou branches.

The local post offices have been able to reduce staffing by not filling vacant positions created when people leave, Twyman said.

Tahoe presents a unique challenge to the postal service because of its lack of growth, but the area is not alone in the mail delivery changes that may be on the way, Rupert said.

“Its not just there, it’s everywhere,” Rupert said.

– The Record-Courier’s Kurt Hildebrand and The Associated Press contributed to this story.