Round one to residents in mailbox dispute

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OTISFIELD — An unexpected uproar over the removal of the town’s only collection mailbox has caused officials at the U.S. Postal Service to give the move a second look.

“It’s being reviewed, re-evaluated, in light of customers’ feedback,” said Postal Service spokesman Tom Rizzo.

The blue collection box, which sits in the driveway of the Otisfield Town Hall on Route 121, had been given a 10-day notice for removal this week when residents sprung into action to stop the action.

“We were told it’s a done deal. You can’t do anything. Well, you don’t tell that to Americans,” said Town Clerk Sharon Matthews Tuesday night. A second box, she discovered Tuesday, was removed from the Bolsters Mills section of Otisfield this week.

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Matthews said the 1,750 residents in town deserve to have their collection box, especially since they have not had a post office in more than 50 or 60 years and have to drive to the Oxford Post Office. When summertime comes and the population doubles with folks who do not have a post office box or a mailbox, the usage increases significantly, she said.

When she and others discovered a sign on the mailbox on June 30 saying the box would be picked up in 10 days, they went into action. Calls were made to state Sen. David Hastings, R-Oxford, and U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, along with a call to Mike Doyle, customer relations at the U.S. Postal Service in Portland.

Collins issued a statement Tuesday night saying, “Maine is a large, rural state and I want to ensure that people living in
the northern woods, or on the islands, or in our many rural small towns have the
same access to important postal services as the people of our cities. There is no doubt that the U.S. Postal Service is suffering
from the weak economy and other financial problems. However, I do not believe
that the answer to the Postal Service’s financial woes is reducing services that
would hurt small communities and the families who live there.”

On Monday, the Postal Service sent a man to pick up the collection box, Matthews said.

She and Administrative Assistant Marianne Izzo-Morin ran outside to secure the mailbox. “We were ready to chain ourselves to that,” said Matthews, looking at a love seat that had been pulled over to the mailbox.

“Marianne yelled, ‘No! No!’ as the pickup man tried to take the mailbox. Then television cameras arrived as if on cue, Matthews said. “Timing is everything.”

The pickup man made a phone call and drove off, Matthews said.

A Postal Service official said Tuesday he had heard the cries of Otisfield townspeople.

“We’re thrilled customers in Otisfield are as passionate as they are about their mail and we want to serve their needs,” Rizzo said.

The problem is that unless the collection box is used enough, the Postal Service loses money on it, and with a $6 million deficit this year, the service must look at cutbacks while continuing to service customers’ needs, Rizzo said.

Rizzo said the Postal Service, which operates without taxpayer money, has removed 45,000 unused collection boxes across the country since 1998.

“It can be a difficult choice for us sometimes,” he said.

Rizzo said a “density test” in done over a two-week period to determine how much a collection box is used. The minimum standard is 25 pieces of mail per day. During the two-week period in Otisfield, only six pieces of mail were dropped on average each day into the collection box.

Otisfield customers will be allowed to “state their case,” Rizzo said, as the Postal Service continues to look at the issue.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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