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No more no-fee post office boxes in Philip

by Del Bartels

As of the last day of this month, all post office boxes in the Philip Post Office that were previously considered free to mail customers will require a charge.

The charge for a small post office box is $44 per year. If the fee is not paid by the due date, boxes can be closed. If the payment is late, a $15 lock change fee can be charged. Eventually, the box can also be assigned to a different customer.

Steve Carter is the acting manager of post office operations for the West River area of South Dakota. He said, "What I understand is there has been a change with your city elections. As a result since, there is not the ability to make deliveries."

A petition filed locally February 1, 2009, put an initiated measure on the ballot for an April 14, 2009, vote in Philip. An established city ordinance states that it is unlawful for anyone to erect anything in the public right-of-way. The area between the street and the sidewalk is considered public right-of-way. The initiated measure, if voted in, would have simply changed the ordinance's last sentence to, "This ordinance does not apply to any traffic control device, traffic sign or mailbox."

The vote resulted in that the ordinance was not changed. If mailboxes had been made exceptions to the Philip law, mail would not necessarily have been delivered to a mailbox that was erected in front of a building. The box would have had to be on the direct line of travel of a mail delivery route. According to Carter, the local postmaster deterines the line of travel. Routes are set by the federal government and mail delivery contracts for any specific route are let out for bid. At least once a year the delivery routes are up for review.

A post office policy set in June of 1998 states that any mail recipient who lives within a quarter of a mile from the post office and not on a current mail route may use a post office box for free. These are referred to as group E boxes. Addresses that receive delivered mail, otherwise known as postal approved locations, are on the direct line of travel of a mail route.

The United States Postal Service follows many rules, regulations and policies. The main reference for these is the Postal Operations Manual. Of the many qualifications for customers to receive a free post office box is that the customer does not receive carrier delivery via an out-of-bounds delivery receptacle. According to a voter-supported Philip ordinance, no mailbox may be put in the public right-of-way.

Carter said, "And, as a result, the quarter mile ruling is null and void in Philip. Due to the ordinance and the election process, it doesn't offer us the ability to deliver on lines of travel. Our policy is we no longer offer free post office boxes in Philip. It is unfortunate that it happens, but it does."