WASHINGTON – Work on 16 Maryland post offices will be frozen as part of a U.S. Postal Service effort to make up a $2 billion to $3 billion budgetary shortfall, agency officials announced last week.
Most of the Maryland projects were to build new facilities to replace post offices that have been outgrown, postal officials said. The freeze will affect projects at 800 post offices nationwide.
Postal workers in Maryland were disgruntled by the news, saying expansion of the targeted post offices is desperately needed.
The conditions are “terrible,” said Joseph Hayward of the Olney post office in Montgomery County. He said the facility was “hazardous. . . it’s so cramped.”
Hayward said the Olney post office needs space for two or three new delivery routes, but is too crowded to add any more. He said a postal route serves 400 to 500 homes.
Rodney Leatherman of the Oakland post office in Garrett County said his office also lacks room for new routes, but the freeze stopped the expansion of another office that would have relieved some of the pressure.
Postal employee Lynn Baker said the Adamstown area of Frederick was growing “tremendously,” and the post office was suffering. “We have very little room,” she said.
The construction freeze comes on the heels of a 1-cent increase for first- class mail in January, which itself followed a 1-cent increase two years ago. The Postal Service said it may also propose an increase of up to 10 to 15 percent in postal rates this summer to help make up the budgetary shortfall.
The Postal Service said Thursday that universal mail service is at risk unless the law is changed to give it more control over its budget. It said it needs better control over wages and it has to have the ability to respond more rapidly to increasing costs.
The service has also been losing business to what it calls “electronic diversion,” as more and more people send e-mails instead of letters.
“By law we have to break even,” said Deborah Yackley, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service’s Capital District. She said the Postal Service wants to change the law so that rate increases would be less frequent and financial plans could be extended farther into the future.
“It’s tedious,” Yackley said of the budget process. “It looks like we’re always raising rates.”
Yackley said the Postal Rate Commission has nine months to decide whether it will raise rates, so it may be at least a year before construction is restarted. The list of capital projects will have to be prioritized, she said, and construction or expansion plans for some post offices may have to be dropped.
The freeze idled at least one Maryland project in mid-stream.
The Postal Service recently bought a Bethesda building to replace the West Bethesda branch, Yackley said. The building was waiting for renovation funding to be approved, but the valuable downtown property will now sit unoccupied until the freeze is lifted, she said.