‘If we have to go to a lawsuit, we’re not afraid’: Officials in Summit County report improvements with US Postal Service but say more work needs to be done
Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper's invitation to U.S. Postmaster General comes after Summit County residents experienced deteriorating mail service earlier this winter
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland’s name.
For years residents of Colorado’s mountain towns have reported continued issues with their local U.S. Postal Service offices. Now, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have invited Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to visit the state to witness the problems firsthand.
In a letter sent Thursday to DeJoy — the CEO of the U.S. Postal Service — the senators say their offices have seen “a sharp rise in complaints” from Coloradans over the past two years and ask him to tour a local facility.
“Colorado and the country rely on (the U.S. Postal Service’s) universal service mandate to receive essential documents and service,” the senators wrote. “Poor and inconsistent (U.S. Postal Service) service not only falls short of community expectations; it violates their trust in (the U.S. Postal Service).”
The letter notes that residents of mountain towns rely on the Postal Service to send and receive election ballots, Social Security checks, passports, prescription medicines and other essential, time-sensitive mail.
Over the past few months in Summit County residents have reported weekslong delays in receiving mail, including bills and important documents, difficulty accessing mail-order prescriptions and long waits to pick up packages.
For more than a month, Dillon Post Office restricted its hours for P.O. Box access — usually available 24/7 — to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. after vandalism damaged the infrastructure there. And, when U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse expressed “deep concern” over postal service mismanagement in a letter to U.S. Postal Service leaders late last month, he specifically cited issues at the Dillon and Silverthorne post offices.
The letter from Bennet and Hickenlooper comes as several Colorado mountain towns have started to publicly discuss the potential of bringing a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service — but also as local leaders have reported that the agency has made some progress in recent weeks.
In a statement, James Boxrud, a spokesperson for the postal service, said the federal agency is in receipt of the letter from the senators. But Buxrud said he does not know whether DeJoy — or Joshua Colin, the Postal Service’s executive vice president, who the letter is also addressed to — will accept the invitation.
“We appreciate their concern for the Postal Service and our customers,” Boxrud said in the statement. “Stabilizing and improving service throughout the Colorado mountain communities is an organizational priority for the Postal Service.”
The Postal Service continues to face challenges related to staffing and housing in resort communities and is in regular communications with all of Colorado’s Senate and Congressional staff, according to the statement.
Bennet and Hickenlooper wrote in their letter that local residents have identified several areas where the Postal Service could improve including resolving staffing shortages, partnering with towns to identify affordable housing for postal service employees and revamping infrastructure, particularly for packages. Moreover, the senators said the Postal Service should “immediately” reinstate the quarterly calls with Colorado’s Congressional delegation that it had started last year.
In Summit County, the Postal Service has taken some steps to begin addressing those issues, according to Interim Summit County Manager Philip Gonshak. In response to an offer noting workforce housing available through the county, five Postal Service employees have applied, Gonshak said.
“When I got here (in November) it was in dire straits for the Postal Service to provide mail to its customers and residents here,” he said. “I’m hoping now this will stop the hemorrhaging.”
Gonshak said the county’s main goal is to be a partner for the Postal Service so residents can start receiving better service.
“We want to make it better for our residents,” he said, “not just talk about the deficiencies.”
Meanwhile, Dillon Town Manager Nathan Johnson said the post office in town has a couple new staff members, which should help with the service issues that residents had been experiencing there.
Still, though, there is much work to be done to get the Dillon Post Office to where it needs to be, Johnson said, noting the town has asked the Postal Service to look at potential redevelopment of that property, with the possibility of including workforce housing for employees onsite.
While crediting local Postal Service workers for their hard work, he said he believes there needs to be a fix at the federal level.
“There’s a lot of things that have to happen. It’s trying to correct a ship,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take weeks, maybe even months to get to 100% where it needs to be.”
In Silverthorne, too, the Postal Service has had success hiring new employees, according to Town Manager Ryan Hyland. Residents have reported finally receiving Christmas cards sent from the East Coast eight weeks ago, Hyland said.
“Maybe some of the log jam is breaking up,” he said.
But, the level of service in Silverthorne and Summit County is still not where it needs to be, Hyland said, and local leaders continue to be frustrated by a lack of regular updates from the Postal Service.
“Maybe its a little bit of relief from that intense level of crisis, but it’s obviously nowhere near the level of service we expect and deserve,” Hyland said. “I think a lot of folks can’t fathom the situation that we’re in because it’s so different from the service levels you see in most of the rest of the county.”
Despite some recent improvements, both Hyland and Gonshak said they have been involved in ongoing conversations among Colorado mountain towns about a potential lawsuit against the Postal Service — though they are hopeful that other solutions will be found so it won’t come to that.
But, “If we have to go to a lawsuit, we’re not afraid,” Gonshak said.
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