By Judy Pack
Killeen Daily Herald
Many Killeen residents who have recently moved into new homes are going without mail delivery service and find themselves caught in the middle of a dispute between homebuilders and the U.S. Postal Service.
The issue involves the task of installing Neighborhood Delivery and Collection Box Units.
Builders claim the job of providing and installing the cluster box units, CBUs, belongs to the U.S. Postal Service. The postal service says an implemented change calls for contractors/builders of newly developed areas on city routes to provide and install the units, which cost approximately $850 each.
The standoff has resulted in hundreds of Killeen residents making a trip to the post office to pick up their mail until the issue can be resolved. Between the limited hours of operation and long lines, its a no-win situation for everyone involved.
Victor Corderozabala recently moved into a duplex on Hydrangea Street in southwest Killeen and said not having mail delivery to his home address wasnt a problem because he already had a post office box before moving into his new home. He said his landlord told him there was no mail service.
I dont even know where to go to ask about the mail, Corderozabala said of the situation. I have a post office box for my bills, so having no mail service here doesnt matter. My neighbor got her electricity turned off, though, because of the mail mix-up.
According to Jefferson Davis, Killeens U.S. postmaster, the reorganization of the U.S. Postal Service resulted in no subsidies from Congress. The operation of the post office is dependent upon revenue generated by the sale of postage stamps, he said. The most cost-efficient way of delivering mail to each customer within the city limits is the CBU, which is the authorized mode of mail delivery in Killeen.
Davis said he has installed 35 CBUs since the beginning of April, and the number of people without mail service is currently about 100. The number had been close to 600 in January.
The CBU provides a secure drop for mail, a more efficient way to deliver the mail and also provides a secure place to post outgoing mail. Recent identity theft problems and terrorism were also considered in the decision to use the centralized mailboxes.
The cost of erecting and maintaining these CBUs is better, Davis said. The mail is secure. Instead of placing important mail such as checks into a mailbox at the curb, these have keys for each customer.
Davis said representatives from the post office routinely go to builders offices at the sites when homes are under construction and advise them about the requirements for mail delivery. Of the homes being built, he said, only a small number of builders have decided to stop installing the CBUs.
Killeen is unique in that they develop an area, then sell it, he said. The argument is between the developer and the builder as to which one is responsible for the costs involved. The developers dont talk to the builders, and there may be three builders on one street.
Davis said the CBUs were provided to builders by the postal service for a number of years during the feasibility study of the units, but the builders were told that eventually the cost of the CBUs would become theirs.
Besides the initial cost of the unit, the expense involved in pouring a cement foundation and hiring a contractor to install the boxes adds to the situation. Davis said the cost to install the slab is $290, and the combined cost of having a slab poured and a box installed is $1,045.
Mike Emmons of B.A. Emmons Homes, Inc., said local builders have always provided the pads and installed the mailboxes provided by the post office. He was shocked to learn that the USPS was no longer providing the boxes.
Who owns the boxes if the builders pay for them? Emmons asked. What kind of litigation issues does this bring to us?
While Davis says repairs and maintenance of the CBUs will be the responsibility of the postal department, Emmons voiced the concerns of several local builders who dont see the issue as another cost to be passed along to the consumer.
What started as a gesture of good will on the part of the builders has now become a more complicated problem, he said, because builders cannot offer warranties on the CBUs.
When a mailbox is erected in front of a home, it remains on the property that is sold. Upon closing, builders no longer have responsibility for maintenance or liability, they argue. With a CBU, it cannot be released to an individual as part of a sale.
The postal department argues that the postal unit is no different than any other utility, such as cable lines, power poles or phone lines placed on lots, and presents no liability to anyone.
A meeting in April between Davis and local builders did little to solve the problem, according to both Emmons and Davis.
You have 800 people without mail service right now, Emmons said. With 15 or 20 closings on homes per day, youre going to have a lot more people without service.
Tom Harper, division manager for Centex Homes, did not mince words about the problem. His only comment was that until proven otherwise, it was a post office delivery issue, not a developer/builder issue.
The changes in mail service in Killeen are a part of a plan implemented in the Rio Grande District of the USPS, according to James Coultress, community program specialist. The plan has been in place for several years, and is meant to maintain the efficiency of mail delivery and to keep postage rates as low as possible.
We went from the door, to the curbside, to the CBU, Coultress said. The carrier can stop, turn off the motor (of the truck), and deliver the mail. We can do it faster and more efficiently.
City Councilman Ernest Wilkerson, who represents the Ward 4 area where most of the problems exist, said where there are responsible builders, there is no problem.
Weve had this problem before, and I thought it was solved, he added. The problem needs to be resolved. It is an absolute necessity that people get their mail.
A person new to the area depends on the mail service to bring important mail, including deposit refunds from old addresses and timely documents, he said. The need for mail service is even more important when you have limited access to the post office because of work hours and the long wait.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement quickly, Wilkerson said the matter can be made part of the city of Killeens permit process.
Davis said he has addressed the problem in a letter to city officials and hopes the problem will be resolved by the City Council.
The decisions regarding when to install the foundation for the CBUs need to be part of the plat process, he said.
City planners are currently studying the issue and hope to make a presentation to the City Council in early June.
Andrew Allemand, senior planner with the city of Killeen, said there have been some preliminary discussions with Davis and developers regarding the issue.
A city ordinance could establish requirements for builders, he said. Once they have presented their information to the City Council, he said, they will ask for their direction in the matter.
Contact Judy Pack at email@example.com