CENTRAL FALLS â€” Less than two weeks after having to fight a parking ban, City Falls residents had another reason to protest: the potential closure of the city's only post office.
About 75 people took part in a rally on Thursday night that began at the Central Falls Post Office. Following comments from Ward 4 City Councilman James Diossa, who had traveled to Washington D.C. on Wednesday to meet with Postal Service and Congressional officials to discuss the issue, the group marched down Sumner Street to Central Falls City Hall, where an informational meeting sponsored by regional Postal Service officials was held.
The post office at 575 Dexter St. in on a list of branches that the U.S. Postal Service is looking at possibly closing to address a reported $8 billion deficit. Postal Service spokeswoman Christine Dugas said that nationwide, the Postal Service has seen a 25 percent drop in first class mail due to electronic diversion such as e-mail, and expects to lose another 25 percent in the next five years. As such, she said the Postal Service headquarters in Washington, D.C. has developed a list of 3,700 post offices, including Central Falls, that will be evaluated according to certain criteria.
Dugas said the potential closure list was developed according to criteria which included: a decrease in business at the branch over the last two years, another post office being located within a few miles, and a two-hour or less â€śworkload factorâ€ť based on the number of transactions. Now, the Postal Service is holding informational meetings in all of the communities where post offices are targeted to obtain input from residents and city leaders as part of what she called â€śdiscontinuance studies.â€ť
Dugas said that letters and surveys were sent out (in English only) to everyone in the city's zip code, and that residents have until March 12 to return the forms. In addition, she said the comments made at the community meeting would all be made part of the officials record that would be sent to Postal service headquarters. No post office would be closed prior to May 15, she added.
However, many residents at the meeting complained that they had not received the surveys and, more importantly, that the letters and surveys were only in English. Numerous speakers said they feared that the city's high Latino population would not complete the surveys since they weren't in Spanish, and this would make it appear to Postal Service officials that residents don't care about losing the post office.
The meeting, in which all comments made in English were translated to Spanish by resident Alexander Parmenidez, drew the city's local legislative delegation, as well as representatives from the offices of U.S. Congressmen Sheldon Whitehouse and David Cicilline.
At the outset, Steve LaChapelle, manager of postal operations for Rhode Island and Massachusetts, told the crowd that the Central Falls Post Office was just in the study stage at this point. â€śThis is your meeting to give us comments on why the post office should stay open,â€ť he said.
Alan Angelone, acting postmaster for Pawtucket, said he was heartened to see the large turnout. â€śObviously, we're not irrelevant,â€ť he said, with a smile.
Speaker after speaker noted the importance the post office in the square-mile city of 19,000 people, many of whom are non-English speaking, poor, elderly and lack vehicles. Contrary to the statistics cited by Dugas earlier about a lack of business at the branch, numerous residents and city officials painted the post office as the hub of the community, which people rely on for sending and receiving mail, maintaining post office boxes, and other means of communication.
Sen. Elizabeth Crowley said the branch plays â€śa vital roleâ€ť to the city and the suggestion that Central Falls residents could utilize other post offices such as Pawtucket, Cumberland or Providence is not helpful to those who don't have a car. â€śWhen you have to walk, a few miles is a lot,â€ť she said.
Rep. Gus Silva called the Central Falls Post Office â€śa very proud part of our community...part of our identity.â€ť He also noted the large turnout and urged residents to â€śstay involved.â€ť
Rep. James McLaughlin said that with the city's demographics, the post office is an â€śessential service that can't be shut down.â€ť He said that the closure of this branch, on top of the post office in Valley Falls, â€świll create a serious hardshipâ€ť for local residents and business owners.
George Carvalho, director of Congressman Sheldon Whitehouse's office, pointed out that when the Valley Falls Post Office was closed, it was said that the Central Falls site would help service those customers.
Longtime resident David Riseberg said that when the Valley Falls branch was closed, a lot of mailboxes were also removed. He commented that the Postal Service seemed to be defeating its own purpose. â€śIf you keep taking away post offices and mailboxes, how are we going to mail stuff?â€ť
Resident Michael Brule said the loss of the post office would be another negative as the city struggles to recover from bankruptcy. He also disputed the data on the post office's lack of customers, saying the clerk who works at the branch told him thatâ€ť he never stops.â€ť
Several high school students also spoke in support of keeping the post office open, including Samantha Assad, who said the branch was important to those mailing out school transcripts, college applications and scholarship forms. â€śWe lost our community center, we almost lost our library, let's not lose our post office,â€ť she pleaded, to applause.
Dugas said she was particularly impressed to see the students there, saying it was the first such meeting where younger people expressed an interest in their neighborhood post office. â€śIt makes me feel good,â€ť she stated, noting the increased use of electronic media that threatens the future of the Postal Service.