OTISFIELD — The blue collection box in front of the Town Hall will remain in place for at least a few more weeks.
The box has been slated for removal as a cost-saving measure by the U.S. Postal Service, which says the box is underutilized. But the action prompted town officials and residents to wage a fight to keep it.
“No decision has been made,” said Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the Postal Service in Portland.
Rizzo said Thursday there had been some discussion, but nothing official yet, that the Postal Service may conduct another density test to determine whether claims by local officials that the summertime population significantly spikes the use of the collection box is true.
The uproar began two weeks ago when town officials received a notice that the town’s only collection box, which sits in the driveway of the Otisfield Town Hall on Route 121, had been given a 10-day notice for removal.
Town officials immediately sprung into action, calling their legislators, placing the name and telephone number of a consumer affairs representative on the town’s billboard and threatening to chain themselves to the box. When the Postal Service arrived and tried to take the box away, town officials drove the town’s backhoe up to the box and put the machine’s claw over it so the Postal Service could not come back in the middle of the night to take it.
Town officials say the box serves the town’s 1,750 year-round residents and serves double that population in the summer. Otisfield does not have its own post office.
Postal Service officials said the box had to go after a density test showed a daily average of six pieces of mail were placed in the container. The cost to maintain the box far outweighed the apparent usage. Town officials say they use a mailbox next to the collection box to receive their daily mail but do not put outgoing mail in it because they are afraid it will be stolen. Other residents say they use it for the same reason.
While a new density test may indicate a higher usage of the collection box in the summer, Rizzo warned it doesn’t necessarily mean the collection box will remain in place.
“If there’s a spike in the summertime, there might be another way to deal with it,” he said.
Like the decision to get rid of telephone booths across the country because they were no longer being used, Rizzo said the decision by the Postal Service to reduce the number of collection boxes nationwide from 365,000 in 2000 to the current 177,000 is based on usage and the need to cut costs to overcome what Rizzo called “a very serious” financial situation.
“This is not an Otisfield issue,” he said. “This is a national issue.”
Removing underutilized or unused collection boxes is one of the few options the Postal Service has of coping with the loss of revenue-generating, first-class mail, Rizzo said.
“The Postal Service is not a profit-making enterprise,” he said. “We’re trying to provide a service affordably to the country. We think this is just common sense to eliminate unused boxes.”
The Otisfield mailbox story has been picked up by newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Daily News and the Detroit Free Press, and by network television.