US Postal Service cites lack of affordable housing for its Summit County staffing struggles

Frustration grows as community members wait for the Postal Service to resolve issues at its local facilities

The sidewalks from the handicap parking spots leading to the front door of the Dillon post office are not completely plowed as of midday Friday, March 11. One Summit County resident, who is in a wheelchair, told community leaders they haven't been able to access the facility for months because sidewalks haven't been plowed.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

Over the past year, leaders from Summit County government and all four main towns have rallied together to try to mitigate issues at the local U.S. Postal Service locations. Months later, community leaders are still trying to resolve these complaints with Postal Service representatives.

In recent weeks, more attention seems to be diverted to the Dillon post office location. Since the beginning of the year, the recycling islands have been removed, the front desk gate is sometimes closed during the day — including for a lunch break hour for employees — and it’s still not uncommon for community members to receive their mail and packages late as well as stand in line as long as 30-45 minutes.

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she’s witnessed all of these issues at the facility. When she or other community leaders ask post office representatives about them, she said they aren’t given a clear answer about the root of the problem.

“The U.S. Postal Service is not particularly forthcoming in the rationale or the underlying causes of the challenges we’re seeing,” Pogue said. “I would assume they are continuing to not be able to hire adequate staff so they are relying on a strategy of finding postal workers from other communities. As other communities also struggle with staffing problems, that becomes less of an option they can rely on.”

As community leaders continue to advocate on Summit County’s behalf, residents’ frustration is growing by the day. The brunt of those complaints go to leaders like Pogue and Dillon Town Manager Nathan Johnson.

“We had talked with a constituent who is in a wheelchair and he has been unable to access the Dillon post office for months now because the sidewalks aren’t plowed,” Pogue said. “To me, that is unacceptable.”

In recent weeks, leaders are hopeful that things will turn around, especially at the Dillon facility. Johnson was one of a few town leaders who sat in on a call with representatives from the offices of Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, as well as Rep. Joe Neguse’s office. These state offices coordinated a call a few weeks ago where leaders from rural mountain resort communities spoke directly with representatives from the post office about the issues that face their facilities.

Other communities to express grievances were Silverthorne, Buena Vista, Avon, Eagle, Parachute, Gypsum and Crested Butte.

During the call, Johnson said the town of Dillon was willing to partner with the post office to provide some sort of housing for employees. Johnson said the Dillon facility is down about five staff members, as is the Silverthorne location, and that post office representatives frequently cite the county’s lack of affordable housing as a reason for its difficulties hiring.

On the call, Johnson said representatives had indicated that the Dillon facility would get around 100 new parcel lockers “in the near future” to help with space constraints, which might be the reason for the removal of the recycling islands. Johnson said he did not know the timeline of this project. Though he said this effort was appreciated, Johnson expressed to representatives on the call that they should zero in on other priorities.

“We definitely feel that the Postal Service needs to focus more on the customer experience, so to say, maintaining the facility, making it clean, making it friendly, inviting,” Johnson said. “As with anything, if there’s open jobs — like there are in many entities across the county — you got to make sure the experience is welcoming and inviting, and I think that ties back to the overall cleanliness. Maybe if things were to change there and people were to care about the facility, then maybe people would actually apply for the open jobs.”

When asked why getting mail to the county is so difficult and when asked about the Dillon facility’s ongoing struggles, Postal Service spokesperson James Boxrud did not provide any details and instead pointed to the county’s lack of affordable housing for the organization’s staffing issues.

“(The Postal Service) is ready to serve, but we have difficulty retaining employees due to the lack of affordable housing options,” he wrote in an email. “We implore local leadership to help us find solutions.”

In the email, Boxrud did not mention the town of Dillon’s willingness to partner on a housing project.

In a follow-up email, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said he was aware of this concern and that his team has also tried to provide solutions.

“We have offered to continue to explore various housing opportunities, and we have asked them to contact us when they have a potential hire with a housing challenge to see if any of our jurisdictions might have a vacancy within our housing stock or if we can provide any other housing referral info,” Vargo wrote in an email. “They haven’t reached out to me to explore options in greater detail following the meetings I have participated in with (Postal Service) folks.”

Boxrud acknowledge the meeting held a few weeks ago and said the Postal Service is “committed to working with each town to address their individual needs to every extent possible.” He also noted that follow-up sessions will be scheduled “in the near future” to improve communications and that the Dillon facility is “being elevated for further review.”

The recycling islands at the Dillon post office have been removed, pictured here Friday, March 11. Summit County community leaders have been advocating to the U.S. Postal Service to improve conditions and customer service at its local post office locations since summer 2021.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

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