FARMINGTON — The U.S. Postal Services' shrinking budget is no excuse for the Farmington post office's disheveled appearance, a spokesman said, but it is part of the reason.
"How we got here is unfortunate. There's the reality of the post office's finances," spokesman Brian McCoy said of the weeds and trash that blight the 20th Street post office's grounds. "But, again, that doesn't excuse the post office's responsibility of being a good neighbor."
On June 24, the Farmington Police Department issued Post Master Steve Begay a petty misdemeanor criminal citation for allowing weeds to grow outside the post office.
The citation requires that Begay appear in municipal court, and the offense carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.
But Michael Tita, Postal Service senior litigation council, said Begay won't likely serve jail time or pay a fine. The Postal Service will be substituted as the defendant, and the case will be transferred to federal court.
"He's not the proper defendant," Tita said.
McCoy said the Postal Service will hire a contractor to spray the rocks outside the post office three times a year to prevent weed growth and lay down more rocks on to improve the office's sidewalk berms.
"I think that that's an encouraging sign to me," Mayor Tommy Roberts said.
Roberts walked the perimeter of the post office the day after the citation was issued. "It's a mess out there," he told The Daily Times during that visit.
McCoy said the post office's grounds have not been what the Postal Service wants them to be.
But the agency's budget, he said, is shrinking.
The Postal Service has asked Congress to allow the agency to deliver mail five instead of six days a week to reduce operating expenses, he said.
The Postal Service has maximized its federal borrowing limit of $15 billion and is now losing millions of dollars a day, he said. The agency is congressionally mandated to pay on average $5.5 billion a year to pre-fund employee retirement and health benefits, which is about 7 to 8 percent of its total revenue, but it doesn't have the money to do that, he said.
And, Postal Service spokesman Peter Hass said, the agency doesn't receive tax money even though it is a federal agency.
He said fewer people are using first-class mail now because they are communicating and paying bills online.
In 2004, almost 98 billion Postal Service first-class packages and envelopes were mailed, according to the agency's statistics. In 2013, fewer than 66 billion first-class packages and envelopes were mailed.
To save money, Hass said, the Postal Service is consolidating post offices and jobs. He added that the agency is doing so without layoffs.
In 2004, 707,500 full-time employees worked for the Postal Service, according to its statistics. In 2013, fewer than 490,000 full-time employees worked for the agency.
McCoy said the Farmington post office now has only one custodian, but it used to have more.
Al Gomez, one of those former custodians who retired last year, said Post Master General Patrick Donahoe is trying to dismantle and privatize the Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union has been fighting him for years.
He said the federal government wants the public to see a rundown post office because it supports privatization.
Hass denies the allegations.
"With less people, we're doing clerk work and anything else they can think of," Gomez said. "So that's the reason there's trash outside."