KANEVILLE—Frustration over the reduced hours at the Kaneville post office has been rising, as residents struggle to pick up their mail and do business, and Village President Pat Hill wants to do something about it.
The post office, located at 2S101 Harter Road, had its hours slashed in February to just four hours a day, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., and is among 13,000 offices nationwide facing reduced services as the U.S. Postal Service struggles with declining first class mail volume and nearly $50 billion in debt.
Kaneville resident Joann Murdock said that the reduced hours have affected her business, Artists of Note, by lengthening her turn-around time for customers. Since she now has to wait until the afternoon to get her mail, it’s difficult to turn around orders, bills and invoices before the office closes again at 4:30.
Hill said that a lot of people have been coming into her store, named Hill’s Country Store but better known as “the purple store,” and complaining about the reduced hours. Many local businesses have been affected, she said, including her own.
“We’re all crabby,” Hill said. “(Residents and business owners) can’t mail things out. They have to have it mailed out in the morning, and they can’t wait until the next day to get it out because it’s time-sensitive stuff. So they go to the Elburn post office or the Sugar Grove post office, and we’re losing the revenue (at the Kaneville post office).”
The reduced hours are just part of a pattern of recent changes that are causing many residents to worry their office might close, she said.
First, the office’s equipment was downgraded last fall, which made providing services slower and more labor-intensive. Then the hours were reduced in February.
And now, postmaster Roger Fronek is being transferred to Elburn and replaced with a new employee who will be paid less and will not receive benefits.
It’s a series of events that has intensified worries among residents that the USPS will close the office and the close-knit town will lose its identity, Kaneville resident Dan Isham said.
“It seems like it’s the first step in phasing it out altogether,” Isham said as he picked up his mail from his P.O. Box. “It will hurt the community. I’ve had a P.O. Box for a long time, and I like having it instead of delivery. I like having the same postmaster, who knows me by sight and I know him by sight.”
Hill is encouraging residents to contact the USPS and their congressmen about the issue—the sign outside her store, at the intersection of Harter Road and Main Street in Kaneville, urges residents to write letters this week—and is hoping that if enough people ask for the hours to be expanded again, it will make a difference.
“Our goal is to get our post office back up to at least six hours a day because we do have the revenue,” she said. “We want a full-time postmaster back.”
Fronek said he heard complaints from customers daily about the cutbacks and understood residents’ concerns.
“They want their Kaneville identity is what this comes down to,” Fronek said. “Basically a community is based on their town having a ZIP code. It’s important to a lot of people. This is a tight-knit community, and they are proud of their identity. They’ve been here since 1836, and a lot of them think that if the post office were to close, they would just become a blip on the radar screen.”
Though the hours and equipment have been reduced, Fronek said he knows of no plan to close Kaneville’s office, and that the decision to reduce hours was actually an encouraging thing.
“(USPS) said they would compromise the hours but not close the office, which I think was encouraging. The people on the street are very skeptical, but I’ve been told that they are reducing the hours in order not to close offices,” he said.
Decisions about the Kaneville post office’shours and future are made by officials at USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to USPS spokesperson Beverly Howard, and all of it is driven by workloads. There are currently no plans to close Kaneville’s office or any other post office in the country, she said.
“I do know that the hours have already been reduced, but so far as we know, those are all the changes that are being made,” Howard said. “There’s nothing in process to close the particular office, based upon the workload that the office has been receiving.”
Howard said many customers from across the country had contacted USPS and expressed worry that their offices would be closed and their addresses would be changed to accommodate new delivery routes. Part of the decision to reduce opening hours rather than the number of offices was to prevent people from having to change their addresses, she said. She noted that closing post offices, which would route mail through another town’s office and potentially change some customers’ mailing addresses, would be a logistical nightmare since many towns have streets with the same names, such as Main Street, and that USPS’s databases were not designed to handle that overlap.
Reduced hours at thousands of offices nationwide will save USPS about $2 billion a year, mostly in personnel costs, Howard added.
Fronek said that USPS made decisions about which offices should have reduced hours based on mail volume and on the amount of revenue.
“Volume-wise, I can see them reducing Kaneville’s hours,” Fronek said. “But revenue-wise, Kaneville pulls its weight. We do deserve to be here, whether it’s for four hours or six hours or eight.”
Despite low volume, Fronek said that the Kaneville office makes money or breaks even on a daily basis in part because the village charges the post office very low rent—just $600 a month—and provides it with free water.
“We’re not Chicago. We’re not going to get the revenue of a big city,” he said. “But this community set it up so that it’s dirt cheap to have this office.”
He estimated that rent and electricity cost just $30 a day for the office. Personnel costs are the biggest expense, he said, but those will be reduced in a few weeks, when he is transferred back to his home office in Elburn and his replacement, a new employee who can be paid a lower wage and isn’t given benefits, arrives.
Fronek said that while he will miss Kaneville and its residents, he doesn’t mind being transferred back to the Elburn office. He already works at the Elburn office in the mornings, he said, before the Kaneville office opens.
“It’s not like I’m losing a job,” he said.
Yet the personnel changes upset Murdock, who said that Kaneville deserved to have a postmaster.
“We’ve been notified that they have hired a new person, new to the postal service, and they aren’t going to be a postmaster,” Murdock said. “We’re going to have a person who has never worked in a post office before. And I’m not the only one who mails international packages and things that require insurance, things that are so complex that I have to ask someone at the counter. How am I going to ask someone who has only two weeks of training? As far as I see it, they are preparing to shut us down, and even if they are not preparing, they are doing everything they can to make us fail.”
Reducing the hours creates a downward spiral of revenue, she said, because the inconvenience pushes residents into going to other post offices to buy stamps and send mail. That causes revenues to drop further and gives USPS administrators in Washington, D.C., more justification for closing the office.
“I can’t see how taking away the equipment we need to sell stamps is going to support sales,” Murdock said. “I believe that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Part of the problem, Murdock said, is also that too many of Kaneville’s postal services have been divided out among other local post offices, which further reduces its revenue.
“The Kaneville post office is here and serving this community, but Maple Park, Elburn and Big Rock all have a piece of this post office and none of them want to give it up. Kaneville has been thrown to the dogs,” she said.
Since the Kaneville post office does not have its own delivery route, both the Elburn and Maple Park offices deliver to parts of Kaneville, and Big Rock’s office now routes some of the mail that gets delivered to Kaneville P.O. Boxes, she pointed out.
“The post office is looking at every office and their revenues to see who to cut down,” Murdock said. “We are Kaneville. We are a village, but Elburn has a piece of our revenue; Big Rock has a piece of our revenue. We want it to be Kaneville’s revenue. The people here are saying, ‘We want our address to be Kaneville, not Elburn or Maple Park.’ It might have made sense in 1932, when the population was a lot lower. But this is not 1932.”
Howard said she worries that USPS’ moves might lead to closure were understandable.
“I can understand why someone might want to draw those conclusions,” Howard said. “We’re hoping that there’s some kind of break or legislation that will move forward and have us not have to make these difficult decisions and adjustments. But if we still have to continue to do business and make cuts, then (closing offices) might be the next step. That’s not something that’s decided locally. That comes from headquarters.”
Yet Murdock thinks locals should have some say.
“It just doesn’t make sense for someone out in Washington, D.C., or Springfield to say, ‘You don’t need your post office and you don’t need your town name in the address either,’” she said. “We call and call, and we can’t find anyone to talk to about this. I’m not doing this for politics, I’m doing this because I’m afraid we’re going to lose our (Kaneville) address. We don’t want the Kaneville post office to go away.”