By ALVIN REINER
About 45 citizens filled Elizabethtown Town Hall to voice their trepidation about the possible closure of the New Russia Post Office.
Dan Cronin, manager of U.S. Postal Service Post Office Operations for the area from Glens Falls to Watertown, informed those gathered that 3,700 post offices are being considered for closing around the United States, including 40 in the Albany District. He indicated that public meetings are part of a feasibility study that also includes comments submitted to the Postal Service.
"These are not new issues, but the Postal Service (is in) dire straits."
NOT JUST MONEY
Cronin said the average annual loss at the New Russia facility is $20,000. Most of the costs associated with the post office revolve around salary, pensions and health-care benefits, he said.
He attributed a regression in income to a decline in first-class mail volume, the paying of bills online and email.
Susan Willnus, a patron of the New Russia post office, said she feels that the costs associated with closing would be about the same after figuring in retirement.
She was also concerned with the global impact of extra driving to obtain postal services.
"This is the only source for us to be a community," she said. "There are other factors than money, and we are not really saving that much."
Angie Wallace voiced concerns about post-office hours, as the New Russia office accepts mail until 5 p.m.
"The hours of operation are very friendly. We're user-friendly."
Could modifying the hours have a bearing on keeping the post office open?
"No," Cronin responded.
Joanne Pecor questioned whether, if the post office were not closed now, it come up again in the future.
Cronin had no definitive answer.
"I see this as a pittance in the overall cost of the services," said Carol Corbo.
She also referred to a recent "60 Minutes" report about alleged abuses in the Postal Service that included the purchases of houses and boats.
A poignant reminder of the importance of a small post office was delivered by Vivian Reiner.
Recently, an 80-year-old New Russia resident had not picked up her mail, so Postmaster Margaret McCoy tried calling her and then asked others to go to the house to check on her, Reiner said.
"There was no response, so the police were summoned and, upon entering the home, found the woman had fallen, could not reach the phone and was severely dehydrated.
It's possible she might have died, had McCoy not sounded the alarm.
And had the woman's mail been delivered in a roadside postal box, it was suggested, she may have not been discovered in time.
OFFERS $1 RENT
Alden Harris, landlord of the post-office building, remarked that the Postal Service sat by for years while UPS and Fed-Ex increased their business.
Then, to resounding applause, he volunteered to cut the annual rent to $1 and to cover the utility costs out of his own pocket.
"At one time, the Postal Service was not about money but providing a service," McCoy said. "When you are the only place in town, you are the place people go to report accidents, such as the drownings at Split Rock."
At the end of the meeting, a teary-eyed McCoy thanked those in attendance for their overwhelming support.
"I'm impressed by the passion that has been expressed at these meetings," Cronin told the crowd.
The quaint postage-stamp-size post office in New Russia has boxes with brass fittings and an oak counter. It is located in a section of a larger building that dates back to the Civil War and through the early half of the 20th century housed an IGA market and gas station.
Trailways buses stopped there until the late 1980s.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the possible closing of post offices in New Russia, North Hudson, Moriah Center, Schroon Lake and Keene Valley. It said mail services are vital to the residents' good health, welfare and businesses and that shutting down local post offices would inconvenience the elderly, infirm and those unable to drive long distances.
The timeline for a possible closing includes studying the proposal for the next few weeks, at which time findings will be posted at the New Russia post office for 60 days. Additional comments can be made at that time.
Then the information will be sent to postal HQ in Washington, D.C., for determination, with another 60-day posting.
Should the result prove unfavorable, an appeal can be sent to the Postal Regulatory Commission for consideration.
Cronin estimated the entire process could take as long as 150 days.
But New Russia is not the only local post office in danger of closure.
The Ellenburg Corners post office on Saint Edmunds Way is also facing closure threats.
"This is a hub for the town," said Town of Ellenburg Supervisor Richard Pearson.
He found out about a month ago about the potential closing after visiting the post office. He said the Postal Authority didn't bother to notify town officials.
"Closing this post office saves the postal authorities about $45,000. (That amount) on this little post office is not going to make them in better financial shape."
Betty Bulirss lives in Ellenburg Depot, but said she does quite a lot of her mailing from "that little post office."
"I'm not in favor of it (closing)," she said. "It would be very inconvenient."
She also worries about losing a piece of history.
"It's the original post office that was originally started here in Ellenburg. It's historical. It would be detrimental to lose it."
Staff Writer Rebecca Webster contributed to this report
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