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Court looks at other options for mail delivery
by Samantha White
Burns Postmaster George Sieveking attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court (held March 6) to discuss postal services in Fields.
Sieveking said the area’s U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is currently housed in The Fields Station, which is owned by Tom and Sandra Downs.
Sieveking said the Downs asked for a “modest increase” in the rate they are paid each year for housing postal services in their business, and the post office declined to increase the rate.
As a result, Sieveking said the Downs opted to terminate their contract, which means that, starting April 30, postal services will no longer be offered at the Fields Station.
Sieveking and the court discussed the option of installing two cluster box units (CBUs). CBUs are multiple-compartment mailbox units, designed to allow postal carriers to deliver mail to a centralized location. Individuals or families using the CBUs would be given their own locking box and key. The units would also include parcel lockers.
He said Fields’ zip code would stay the same, and the mail carrier would be able to sell stamps to people in the area. Mail would continue to be delivered three times a week.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty asked whether more people would be served by the CBUs.
Sieveking replied that the CBUs would “serve the folks who are currently getting mail” in the area.
In order to set up the CBUs, Sieveking said a concrete pad would need to be installed that is four feet wide and 10 feet long.
Sieveking and the court discussed where the CBUs could be placed.
“My concern is that we have these boxes located in an area where they won’t be vandalized or hit by traffic,” Sieveking said. He added that a drunk driver “took out” seven similar units in Redmond.
For security purposes, Sieveking said he thinks it would be best to put the units on Fields Drive.
Grasty said the area would need to be surveyed to determine which land is public and which is private.
“I don’t want push back because you, me or whatever put a pad on [private land],” Grasty said.
The court discussed having Road Supervisor Eric Drushella look at the area and make a recommendation.
However, Grasty said installing the CBUs would be “Plan B.” He said “Plan A” would be to find another building to house the postal service.
“We busted our tails to keep any post offices from being closed in this county,” Grasty said.
Sieveking replied that the owners of the Fields Station opted not to renew their contract, explaining that the decision did not come from the post office.
Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols asked whether any action has been taken to determine whether anyone else wants to establish a post office in the area.
“It has been known in the community only a week that [the termination of postal services at the Fields Station] will happen,” Nichols said.
Sieveking replied that a few businesses could be called to determine whether they would be willing to house the postal service.
Nichols asked whether it would have to be a business. “I would like to have a physical building,” he added. “Rural America is going away,” he said, adding that it is “already hard enough” to conduct business in the Fields area.
“It’s not like the service is going away,” Sieveking replied. He added that people in the area will still get mail and stamps.
Sieveking said the CBUs would be available all the time, and people using the units would not be limited to receiving mail during store hours.
However, Nichols stated that if people lost their keys, they would not be able to receive a backup key at a local office.
“We just need to make available the opportunity to everybody and anybody that’s down there to keep a physical building in that area,” Nichols said. He suggested that a letter be sent to everyone in the community regarding the opportunity to house the postal service. Nichols expressed that the contract would be a good sum of money for someone.
“We are not making this decision. We can’t,” Grasty said. He explained that this is a situation between a contractor and the postal service, and the court’s only involvement would be to coordinate locations for the placement of CBUs, if they happen to be placed in county right of way. However, Grasty said the court would like to suggest that the USPS attempt to find a physical building to house the postal service before installing the CBUs.
Sieveking said he would contact the retail specialists with the Postal Service in Portland for more information regarding the options available.
Grasty announced that Jean Cain will resign from the Harney County Budget Board due to health issues.
“Bless her heart. She worked her tail off for us,” Grasty said.
During its previous meeting (held Feb. 20), the court appointed Curt Blackburn to fill the position that became available when Herb Vloedman’s term expired.
The court received letters of interest from Blackburn, Vloedman, Terri Hellbusch, Bill Burstow and Barbara Cannady regarding the position. However, Cannady withdrew her letter of interest.
Grasty suggested that the court consider appointing Vloedman, Hellbusch or Burstow to fill Cain’s vacated position for the remaining duration of her term.
“I think we ought to do it today,” Grasty said.
Commissioner Pete Runnels made a motion to appoint Hellbusch to the position. Nichols seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously.
Watershed Council Coordinator Karen Moon attended to request the appointment of two new members to the Harney County Watershed Council.
According to its website, The Harney County Watershed Council “recognizes that local ecological and economic prosperity is dependent upon the current and future availability and quality of water.”
Moon said the council recently accepted the resignation of Jason Fenton who was the Burns Paiute Tribe representative, and the tribe recommend Kyle Heinrick as Fenton’s replacement.
Heinrick received a Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University and works as the wildlife biologist for the Burns Paiute Tribe. He also manages the tribe’s 100-acre farm field, which is located on the reservation.
In a letter to the court, Moon wrote, “The council voted unanimously at our February meeting to recommend appointment for Kyle.”
She said the council also received a letter of interest from Kristen Munday, who is a range technician at the Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center, for the “concerned citizen–general” position on the council.
“The council voted unanimously at our February meeting to recommend Kristen be appointed to this position,” Moon wrote.
The court decided to appoint both Heinrick and Munday to the watershed council.
Moon said she would return in a couple of weeks to update the court regarding ground water projects.
The court approved Resolution 2013-05 in the matter of retaining certain overpayments made to county departments.
Harney County Clerk Derrin (Dag) Robinson explained that county departments occasionally receive overpayments of small sums of money (less than $10). He said refunding these overpayments is both costly and time-consuming, especially considering that many of the refund checks are for $5 or $2, and many of the recipients do not cash the checks in a timely manner.
“We carry uncashed checks on the books for two years,” Robinson said. “The time spent dealing with paperwork is just ridiculous,” he added.
Grasty explained that these overpayments typically arise when departments are working with a title company or legal firm, not “Joe Blow.”
“Right,” Robinson replied, explaining that the majority of the overpayments come from national (not local) companies and firms.
Grasty said locals would most likely pay in person, which would reduce the likelihood of overpayments.
The resolution sets forth the policy that the county will “retain overpayments in the sum of $10 or less made to any county department. Overpayments in the excess of $10 shall be refunded to the payer accompanied by a letter explaining that $10 has been retained pursuant to this policy.”
“If the overpayment is more than $10, we absolutely do a refund check,” Robinson said. He said any money that is retained will be added to the county’s general fund.
In other business, the court:
•received an update from Grasty regarding the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference that he recently attended in Washington D.C.;
• discussed letters that it received from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, which stated that, because of the sequestration, there will be a 5.1 percent reduction in the PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program;
• learned that candidates are being interviewed to fill the vacant water master position;
• was informed by Grasty that he will be “testifying on a couple of bills” in Salem at the request of Rep. Cliff Bentz;
• was addressed by Cannady regarding an H-brace that was removed from her property;
•met with Geographical Information Systems Coordinator Bryce Mertz who provided an update regarding a sign installation contract for replacing missing or damaged signs, as well as installing signs on newly-named roads;
• was addressed by Vloedman regarding county tax rates. Grasty later stated that tax rates are levied by the county court, and the court could invite the county assessor to come and talk at length about it.
The next regular meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, March 20, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.