Renting a mailbox at your local post office just got more expensive.
When postal rates increased on May 14, most people were talking about the "forever stamp" or the new 41-cent, first-class stamp, but that's when surprised post office box holders suddenly discovered that their rental fee was making its biggest jump in at least 50 years.
Announcing the rate change in a 280-page decision in March, the U.S. Postal Service said that these increases were part of its effort to bring prices in line with operating costs.
While some areas of the country will see lower rental fees, the Rogue Valley's rates will climb. Ashland and Medford will increase by less than 20 percent, but smaller offices will see rates increase by nearly 40 percent.
"The Postal Regulatory Commission and Board of Governors, who set the rates, base their decisions primarily on the value of commercial real estate near each post office," said Donna Taylor-Eddington, of the Medford post office.
"In areas where the real estate value has soared, they may move the fee up," she said. "In an area where commercial values are going downhill, they may move it down.
"I think that most people realize that the overall real estate values have gone up around here."
Nick Moon, postmaster of Jacksonville and acting postmaster at Eagle Point, said that most complaints have been about stamps, not post office boxes. Taylor-Eddington and Shady Cove Postmaster Marty Mingus agree.
Cheryl Holthusen of Shady Cove was surprised that more people weren't complaining.
She said that when she opened her box on Monday, May 14, she found an envelope with two stickers on it.
"One sticker said a $38 rental fee was due by May 31," she said, "and the other said if payment wasn't made before May 14, a rate increase would be in effect and the amount due was $52."
Holthusen, who had been out of town, said she didn't realize that the rate increase was nationwide and went straight to Postmaster Mingus.
Mingus told her that as a government agency he didn't have a choice of what to charge and when to charge it.
"Every post office is the same," he said. "The Postal Operations Manual says that we notify our box holders of a rate change 20 days prior to the end of the month. That was Friday the 11th."
Mingus said that rather than just staple a form letter to an envelope, which was the procedure, he took the extra step of placing two stickers with bold red lettering onto all of the envelopes "hoping to catch the customer's eye and let them know what was happening."
Mingus and his staff also came in early Monday morning and counted any payments that were in their box at the old rate.
Holthusen said that she appreciated how helpful and understanding Mingus has been.
"I don't want to give the Shady Cove Post Office a bad name," she said. "It's not their fault. I'm not even complaining about the rate, although 36 percent is a tremendous increase."
She said what bothered her most was the short warning.
"It's the people in Washington," she said. "They knew the rates were going up so they should allow the post office to give us an earlier warning.
"It just seems totally unfair that I got a notice in my box that had to be paid before I even picked it up."
Mingus said people should let the Postal Service know what they think.
"We are in a customer service business and we need to treat our customers right," he said. "The people who make the decisions want to hear customer feedback. It's the only way they can make the good choices."
Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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