For years, Mary Ann Uzelac argued that residents of Buena Vista were being unfairly charged to get their mail. The Arkansas River town of about 3,000 people does not get home U.S. Postal Service delivery, doesn’t have cluster boxes and didn’t get P.O. boxes for free, paying as much as $166 a year for the smallest box.
On Friday, Uzelac’s long-sought goal was realized when the USPS announced that Buena Vista residents in 2023 will be able to get P.O. boxes at no charge.
She was relieved and excited to hear the news.
“When I first moved here 18 years ago, I paid $24 for the box. Then it went up to $26 and then $28 and $32. It grew steadily and you don’t feel the impact of that — until it started doubling,” Uzelac said. “I thought ‘well, this is never going to end and it’s getting worse.’”
“I didn’t feel it was right when I was paying $24, but I didn’t want to make a big issue of it,” she added.
But in recent years, frustration at the costs and poor service boiled over. Residents organized by Uzelac earlier this year took to the streets to picket. Comments calling the mail service “a joke,” “TERRIBLE” and “insane!!!” peppered a community Facebook group, that has amassed years of complaints about the post office.
The majority of Colorado communities offer at least one way for residents to get their mail for free, in line with the postal service’s mission to provide universal mail delivery. While there are more than 30,000 post offices nationwide, there are no records detailing how many communities have no-fee post office boxes, James Boxrud, a spokesman for USPS, previously told The Colorado Sun.
Residents in Snowmass Village, Crested Butte, Winter Park and Blue River also have had to pay for P.O. boxes despite not having home delivery, according to a 2019 survey from the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.
The postal service is reviewing access to mail in Crested Butte and Elizabeth.
Qualified Buena Vista residents, those living within town limits and not on a delivery route, should be able to keep their paid P.O. boxes once the service becomes free, according to Boxrud and aides to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who advocated for the town. Officials expect there to be enough boxes. Some residents could be downgraded to a smaller box or have to get mail from general delivery if the boxes run out.
Buena Vista Mayor Libby Fay said town residents and officials were caught by surprise when USPS officials informed them of the change in a virtual meeting Friday.
“They announced that they had decided that it was right, that we were not being treated fairly, and that they were just going to go with these free mailboxes,” she said.
“We’re not objecting to our staff that’s at the post office. They’re all working as hard as they can. It’s just that we were not being treated fairly in comparison to other cities,” she added.
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Buena Vista residents have also complained about poor service at the post office, including frequently lost mail and lengthy wait times. Those issues are a frequent source of frustration in Colorado mountain towns and rural areas where home delivery is scarce, and were exacerbated during the pandemic when people began ordering more items online and many people relocated to more remote areas.
The announcement in Buena Vista comes as the Postal Service has faced losses of more than $90 billion since 2007, due to a decrease in profitable first-class mail and a requirement that the self-funded agency prepay retirees’ health care costs.
A recently signed Postal Service Reform Act aims to improve USPS’ financial viability, including by repealing the requirement that it pre-fund retiree health benefits. And Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was appointed during the Trump administration, has pushed the Postal Service to slash costs as part of a 10-year plan to shore up its finances that is expected to slow delivery of some mail and increase postage rates.
The transition to free boxes is planned to start Jan. 2, to avoid complications during the election and busy holiday seasons, Boxrud said in an interview.