County commission to USPS: Zanoni post office isn’t needed; Notice about permanent Rockbridge post office closing reveals surprising contrasts
Ozark County Presiding Commissioner John Turner last week sent an email message to the U.S. Postal Service saying the new $270,000 post office proposed for Zanoni is not needed or wanted by most area residents. Turner sent the email after USPS representatives held a meeting Jan. 8 at the Gainesville post office to discuss the “alternate quarters” USPS proposes for a new post office facility for the Zanoni community, which has 40 postal patrons. Four residents plus a report attended the meeting.
The meeting came nearly two years after the previous post office facility, which had operated since 1970 on Highway 181 near N Highway, closed in February 2016 under what USPS called an “emergency suspension.” Responsibility for mail delivery to those with Zanoni addresses was transferred to the Gainesville post office at that time.
In answer to a question asked during the Jan. 8 meeting, Gainesville postmaster Jeff Elliott said annual revenue at the Zanoni post office had averaged $500 to $600 during its last few years of operation. The proposed facility would be open two hours weekdays and four hours on Saturday, staffed by a part-time employee who would probably earn $12 per hour with no benefits, Elliott said.
Turner told the Times he had talked with Elliott last week about the USPS proposal, and after the story was published in last week’s Times he had heard from about 20 residents who opposed the project and one Brixey-area resident who wanted it. He and Ozark County Eastern District Commissioner Gary Collins agreed the proposed facility would be “a big waste of money for the amount of good it would do,” Turner said Monday.
Turner added, “I don’t know how this got to be our [the county commissioners’] decision. This is the federal government’s business, and we don’t have any control over it. But I don’t want to be a part of something that wastes money, even if it’s the federal government. We don’t want to waste county money or federal money.”
If USPS really wanted to do something to help Ozark County, Turner said, “they could keep the Gainesville post office window open longer on Saturdays or expand the services available here in Gainesville.”
In December, USPS mailed notices to those with Zanoni addresses, asking for help finding an 8,500-square-foot tract of land to lease where the new, modular post office building could be installed. Paul Rose, who owns the building where the post office operated from 1970 to 2016, was the only one who responded to the request, USPS real estate specialist Vee Spikes said at last week’s meeting. He added, however, that the deadline for proposing a site for the post office isn’t until Feb. 8, and other residents may still respond to the request. The team of USPS officials who accompanied Spikes at the Gainesville meeting visited the Rose property after the meeting to assess whether it would be suitable.
Rose, who attended the meeting with his mother, former Zanoni postmaster Colene Rose, shares Turner’s feelings about the project. “It’s such a waste of money,” he told the Times. “I hate to see them do it.” But Rose said he wasn’t ready to withdraw his offer to lease land for the proposed facility quite yet. “I’ll wait and see whether they cancel it,” he said.
At last week’s meeting, Spikes said the proposed new post office was the agency’s way of investing in the Zanoni community, adding that, without a post office, “the town dies.”
Turner said Monday, “You can’t save the town of Zanoni. There’s no town there to save.”
Contacted Tuesday by the Times, Vee Spikes confirmed that he had received Turner’s email. The message now will go up the USPS chain of command until a decision is made, one way or the other, about reopening a post office in Zanoni, he said. Spikes said Turner and the Gainesville post office would be notified of the decision.
Materials handed out at last week’s meeting in Gainesville said persons interested in making a proposal or an offer to lease land to USPS for the new Zanoni post office or those wishing to offer input about the proposal should contact Vee Spikes at 309-664-4627, email@example.com, or 1211 Towanda Ave., Room 135, Bloomington, IL 61701.
What about Rockbridge?
As the postal service proposes reopening a post office at Zanoni, some area residents have asked if a post office will also reopen in Rockbridge, where the post office that operated inside the Rockbridge Rainbow Trout Ranch Resort’s main building was closed on Jan. 10, 2015.
The answer was contained in a multi-page notice posted from Nov. 8 to Dec. 26, 2017, on the bulletin board in the Gainesville post office – but was not mailed to those with Zanoni addresses. The notice, which was also posted at the Wasola post office, was titled, “Final determination to close the suspended Rockbridge, MO post office and establish service by highway contract route service.”
The Times only became aware of the notice last week. Ironically, the document shows some surprising contrasts between the Rockbridge post office, the county’s oldest post office, which is now permanently closed, and the Zanoni post office, which USPS proposes reopening.
The Rockbridge notice cited as reasons for its closing a “declining office workload,” and “a steady decline in revenue and/or volume.” A little later in the document, the revenue trend for the Rockbridge office is given as $5,576 for fiscal year 2012, $7,275 for fiscal year 2013, $5,572 for fiscal year 2014 and $0 for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 (after the office closed in January 2015). Those revenues seem impressive compared with the $500 to $600 yearly revenue reported for the Zanoni post office that USPS proposes reopening.
The notice also said, “There are a number of alternate sites within a short radius of this office that can provide the sale of stamps and the mailing of most package items.” Elsewhere the notice says the two nearest post offices are Gainesville, 18 miles away, and Wasola, 9 miles away. (Online maps show the distance from Rockbridge to Wasola is actually 13 or 14 miles, depending on the route taken.)
The Gainesville post office assumed responsibility for delivering mail to the 30 Rockbridge postal patrons when their post office closed.
Another puzzling line on the posted notice said the Rockbridge post office “had severe building deficiencies that included: No known structural or security issues.”
Other statements on the Rockbridge-closing notice said that questionnaires were distributed to Rockbridge’s 30 postal patrons in August 2011 and were also available over the counter at the Gainesville post office. Six completed questionnaires were returned. Four were against the “proposed alternate service” and two expressed no opinion.
The notice reports that 21 customers attended an Aug. 23, 2011, meeting at Rockbridge to discuss the proposed closing – contrasted to the four people, plus a reporter, who attended last week’s meeting about Zanoni’s proposed reopening.
It also says a congressional inquiry about the Rockbridge closing was received in September 2011 and “a petition supporting the retention of the Rockbridge Post Office was received on Sept. 16, 2011, with 142 signatures.”
After a proposal to close the Rockbridge post office was posted at the Gainesville and Wasola post offices from August to October 2011, inviting comment, nearly 30 concerns were raised. They’re listed – with USPS responses – in the notice that was posted at the Gainesville post office.
A line near the bottom of the notice says that closing the Rockbridge post office will save USPS an estimated $252,581 over the next 10 years. But those savings won’t include rent – because the Rockbridge Rainbow Trout Ranch didn’t charge USPS rent. A line in the document notes, “There was never a lease for this facility.”
Those watching the proposed reopening of a post office at Zanoni note that the 10-year savings USPS says it gains by closing the Rockbridge post office is a little less than the $270,000 cost of the modular building USPS proposes to install somewhere on leased land at Zanoni – to sell an estimated $500-$600 of stamps each year.