A citizen's inquiry during the Feb. 18 meeting of the White Salmon City Council just might end up sparking a major change in the way local residents get their mail.
For many years, White Salmon residents have been required to rent a post office box for mail deliveries, but the city is now looking into ways to get the local post office to carry mail to residents.
The issue was raised last week by White Salmon resident Dana Scheffler, who asked the city what it could do to have the U.S. Postal Service provide carriers for mail delivery in White Salmon.
Scheffler, who has lived in the city for the past three years, said he got to wondering why his friends in Hood River had mail deliveries, yet citizens in White Salmon did not.
"I thought about all the post office boxes and how much money they cost, and thought that was unfair," Scheffler explained.
Scheffler said he talked with White Salmon Postmaster Susan Gross before going to the City Council meeting.
"I initially went to the post office, and the postmaster thought there had been some hang-up with the city," he said. "Years ago, apparently the city had been opposed to having cluster boxes on the sidewalks."
Cluster boxes allow carriers to deposit mail for a number of residents at one central location. For example, there could be one cluster box per city block. Individual keys would be provided, and deliveries to the cluster boxes would be provided at no charge to residents.
Scheffler said the city of White Salmon may have, at some point in the distant past, played a role in the local post office's decision not to provide mail deliveries within the city limits.
Mayor David Poucher said he has heard rumors that many years ago, the city told the post office it didn't want cluster boxes around town for deliveries.
"It was my understanding that the city originally said we can't have cluster boxes around town," Poucher explained. "We have no idea where that came from. There is nothing in writing."
Poucher said that even if that had been the case in a previous era, that did not mean the city could not change its approach now.
"We might be able to put out cluster boxes. We'll find out exactly what we can do," he said.
According to Scheffler, there are 1,830 post office boxes currently being rented in White Salmon.
"That is $93,758 a year that leaves White Salmon and goes to Washington, D.C.," he explained. "If mail is delivered to our houses, that could create two or three new local jobs. It would create more jobs here, and federal money could be coming in rather than leaving in the form of post office box payments from White Salmon."
Scheffler said he came to the City Council hoping to find a receptive audience.
"It's not a bad idea to get support. The city could pursue this with more clout than I would have," he said.
On Friday, Postmaster Gross said she could not directly comment about the possibility of mail deliveries around the community.
"The post office right now is doing research on it, and that's about it for now," Gross said.
Scheffler added that the postmaster wasn't opposed to the idea of mail deliveries.
"Her mindset was, if this is what my boss says, then I'm all for it," Scheffler explained. "She's not opposed to it, but there's not a whole lot she can do. The post office has policies, and they come from fairly high up."
Brad Roberts, chair of the City Council's City Operations Committee, said his committee would review why the city does not have direct mail deliveries and see if that situation could be changed.
The committee was scheduled to meet on Feb. 24, and Postmaster Gross was expected to attend.
Poucher praised Scheffler for bringing his question to the council, and said the committee would explore the issue from different angles.
"It's good that people ask questions like that. Just because they said no before, who knows what we can do now," Poucher said. "The committee will come back to the full council with information. The question now is, can we do this? We're looking at it with a very positive eye. The post office is bound by certain things, but we'll see what we can do."
Poucher indicated that he thought cluster boxes appeared to be the most likely way for the post office to provide delivery around the city.
"I don't think we'll have a situation where carriers will get out of their cars and come to everybody's door, but I'm sure there's some middle ground somewhere," he said.
For his part, however, Scheffler said he hoped that level of service is exactly what he is hoping for.
"I'm shooting to try to get city delivery to homes, as opposed to cluster boxes," Scheffler said. "I don't think having boxes would be very good for people who are not able to walk up icy roads in the winter. I'd like to see the mail all delivered to houses."