When Donna Reed first moved to the historic area of Oakland 28 years ago, she was informed she could not get home mail delivery and could only receive mail through the Oakland Post Office. The annual fee for the box was about $30, she said.
“There was no way to get mail unless I paid,” she said.
This year, the renewal rate is costing residents $176. Many of those living in this older, downtown section of the town are on a fixed income and cannot afford the box rental. Some of them simply don’t receive mail.
Reed, who lives north of downtown in the historic area, has had enough and appeared before the Oakland Town Commission in September to voice her opinion and ask some questions.
“(Regardless) of what agreements we had in the past, we have to do something,” Mayor Kathy Stark said at the Sept. 12 Town Commission meeting. “Communicating with the post office is very hard. We have yet to find someone who will sit with us and sort through what we need to do. And we have asked.”
Town officials have spoken with Winter Garden postal officials and to Rep. Daniel Webster about the issue.
“We will stay on it,” Stark said at the Sept. 12 meeting. “Any of the solutions that are out there — big pros and big cons — so we’ve got to figure out what we can and cannot live with. We don’t want people to have to pay these outrageous fees.”
Reed, a retired firefighter, embarked on a complicated journey of phone calls, emails and meetings with the local postmaster all the way up to the U.S. Postmaster General.
What she has received, she said, has been a series of dead ends, finger-pointing and uncooperative postal employees. But she is not stopping.
Reed is going up the chain of command in search of answers. She has emailed and met with Bert Ip, Oakland’s postmaster.
34760 VS 34787
“I said, ‘We have 600-plus residents in the historic part of Oakland who have 34760 ZIP code, and we don’t have mail delivery,’” Reed said. “When they started building all around us, they ran out of post office boxes, so they started home delivery. We should have always had home delivery as we grew. … Nobody who lives in the town of Oakland should have a 34787 ZIP code. They should have made the decision to add post office boxes or have home delivery.”
According to post office officials, the town does not want home delivery. But the town can find no records of any conversation or official ruling to back up that statement.
“I have looked through all of our digital archives (includes agendas, minutes, resolutions, ordinances, etc.) regarding the post office and home delivery (and) was not able to find any documents regarding the issue,” said Assistant Town Manager Elise Hui. “I was able to find the lease agreements between the town of Oakland and USPS dating back to 2008 (original agreement) but nothing that discusses home delivery or lack thereof.”
One week ago, Reed posted the following on Facebook: “I have filed a record request to get a letter the post office says exists from 2000 stating the town does not want carrier delivery. The (post office) says they have it but won’t show it to me. … Once I get that letter I will post it so everyone will know.”
One day later, Reed posted on Facebook: “I am waiting for a letter from the post office from a records request and also have filed two more. The news one are the contractual agreements between the USPS and UPS and FedEx. They have a contract that they pay USPS for SurePost and SmartPost (last-mile final deliveries). So then, why does the post office still say they won’t deliver third-party packages to a Group E box?”
“It plainly says it on Form 1093 from the USPS: ‘If you don’t have carrier delivery, you can be issued a post office box for free,’” Reed said last week. “Obviously, you have to change from the post office box you have. … You have to change your address, and you won’t be eligible for package service. You know how FedEx and UPS they have a thing where the ‘last mile,’ they drop off to the post office and the post office delivers to you or puts it in your post office box.
“Then they have the nerve to tell them you won’t be eligible for that service, so if you get that package and you don’t have that post office box, we won’t deliver it to you,” Reed added.
“The officer in charge, the postmaster in this post office, has known all along that if we don’t have carrier delivery that we should get it for free,” Reed said. “So why did they defraud us all these years if they knew that was their policy?”
Reed sent an email to Ip on Oct. 24 thanking him for his conversations with her and asking him several questions:
“In the USPS Domestic Mail Manual 4.1.1, it states by word, ‘Post Office Box service is a premium service offered for a fee to customer and for No fee to customers who are not eligible for carrier delivery.’ So, as it states either way, it is a premium service. So then why would we all lose premium service?
“Why would I lose my size 2 box and have to go to a size 1? In the USPS Domestic Mail Manual 4.5.3 (a), it states, ‘Group E customers are assigned the smallest box that reasonably accommodate their mail volume.’ Also when I moved here I wanted a size 1 and it was told to me there were none available.
“Also I will sign up for my free box today and will also keep the paid box I already have. Before you say I cannot do that, it says I can in the USPS Domestic Mail Manual. In 4.5.3 (c), ‘A customer must pay the fee for each PO box requested in addition to the initial free Group E Box.’
“Why is this just now coming to light? As a supervisor in the USPS, you and the other previous OIC's have always known that this should have been a free service, yet you have elected to not tell the 600+ residents. This should really be a case of defrauding the people because you gladly took our money and continued to raise the fee knowing we should have been given the opportunity for a free box. You elect now to bully people when they come in by telling them they have to change their box, thus, change their address, and they won’t have a premium service, which, by your own policy, is incorrect.”
Ip responded the same day:
“First, I want to start by saying everything that the employee told you is correct and were passed down from the district and headquarters level. We will have to move your box to a smallest one, which will be a size 1; you are currently in a size 2. We are slowing letting people know about it because that was how I was instructed to. We did not want all 600+ residents coming in all at the same time, so we are splitting up in groups. We currently have enough size 1 boxes for the residents that are interested in switching over to a Group E box. A lot of them that inquired are not switching because they would lose out on the premium services.”
‘YOUR POST OFFICE BOX IS SUBSTANDARD’
Another resident has joined Reed in this campaign. Ed Kulakowski has lived in historic Oakland since 2015.
“When I first moved in, I was told I had to have a post office box because they didn’t deliver here, and the charge was $50 or something,” he said. “Our post office people have known for many years that they should not be charging people for post office boxes. but they have been collecting fees at an ever-increasing rate.”
Kulakowski said he received a notice in his mailbox that he “may be eligible for a free post office box.”
He filled out the appropriate form and returned it to the post office. And then he received another notice that said, “your post office box is substandard.”
“You’re giving me a box and saying it’s substandard?” he said. “This is just plain wrong. This rule has been in existence for quite a while, and they have been willingly taking my money. … I would certainly like to see all my fees refunded. I’m not holding my breath, but I think that will be fair compensation.”
Kulakowski also shared his thoughts on Facebook: “I went to the PO with my new PS Form 1093 today. Yes, they will give a ‘free’ smallest size box. If you have a larger one, you’ll be assigned a new box number, of which they say they have many. But here’s the wrinkle — for the free boxes they won’t accept UPS, UPS SurePost, FedEx or other shippers that most of us use.
“These are accepted only for premium (paid) boxes,” he wrote. “The address also has to read PO Box ###. The method many of us have been using, like Box 123 or #123, will be returned, if I understood Mr. Ip correctly. This is the lowest level of customer service I can imagine.”
As for Reed’s public records request, she expects to hear by Nov. 27. She also submitted a request for the post office’s contracts with UPS and FedEx.
“We are thankful for the residents who have spearheaded the efforts to communicate with the United States Postal Service,” Stark said. “Even though the post office and mail delivery operate under the authority of the federal government, the town has attempted for years to navigate the decision-making process at the U.S. Post Office, including meetings with federal legislative delegates. While the issue is yet to be resolved, we are closer to a solution than we have been, thanks to our committed and determined residents.”
USPS DOMESTIC MAIL MANUAL
These are excerpts from the United States Postal Service Domestic Mail Manual.
• Section 4.1.1 Purpose: Post Office Box (PO Box) service is a premium service offered for a fee … to any customer and for no fee to customers who are not eligible for carrier delivery.
• Section 4.5.2 Fee Group E — Free PO Box Service: Customers may qualify for Group E (free) PO Box service at a Post Office if their physical address location meets all of the following criteria:
The physical address is within the geographic delivery ZIP Code boundaries administered by a Post Office.
The physical address constitutes a potential carrier delivery point of service.
USPS does not provide carrier delivery to a mail receptacle at or near a physical address. … “At or near a physical address” is defined by reference to how carrier delivery is established in a particular locale or ZIP Code.