Monkton mailing address system still causing grief
MONKTON — The United States Postal Service sometimes makes living in Monkton a real pain in the butt.
Packages get misdelivered. Real estate gets wrongly listed. Other towns get credit for the accomplishments (and occasionally the misdeeds) of Monkton’s residents and businesses. Monktonites get stymied at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
And more troubling: When there are emergencies in Monkton, haggling sometimes has to happen before a 911 dispatcher can establish the caller’s exact physical location.
The Independent asked Monkton residents for their thoughts, and they had plenty to say.
“UPS started leaving packages at the post office for delivery,” said Jill Dion on Facebook.
This was 10 to 12 years ago, Dion recalled. “I got a call from the Monkton P.O. to either come and pick it up or I would be charged for it to be sent to North Ferrisburgh so they could deliver it to me.” Dion found this especially irksome since she’d already paid UPS for shipping costs.
These days, Dion has to worry about the North Ferrisburgh Post Office returning to sender any mail that says “Monkton” on it.
Why all the confusion?
Monkton is too small and too rural to warrant its own United States Postal Service (USPS) delivery route, so mail gets brought in from post offices in neighboring towns. This means that every physical address in Monkton is different from its mailing address.
In and of itself, this isn’t all that rare for rural towns in Vermont or the rest of the country.
The real problem is that Monkton has five ZIP codes — one for each of its delivery post offices in Bristol, Charlotte, Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg and New Haven.
“It’s rather infuriating,” said Deb Mager Rickner on Facebook. “I don’t understand why Lincoln and Starksboro get to put their towns on their addresses, even though their ZIP code is Bristol.”
Selectboard member John McNerney also wondered why, so he looked into it.
The short version, he explained, is that other towns get their mail from only one neighboring town’s post office, which means for instance that Bristol’s is the only P.O. that has to make sense of a “Lincoln, VT” mailing address. Which means Lincolnites can usually get away with using it.
But woe betide the piece of mail addressed to “Monkton, VT.”
The USPS insists that this is the most practical way to run things.
“In determining the most effective and economical way to service our customers, a lot of factors are taken into consideration, like the distance between delivery points and the availability of existing nearby resources,” said USPS Strategic Communications Specialist Steve Doherty in an email to the Independent.
“Delivery routes are not constructed to align with community identity but rather to reflect safe, efficient mail delivery along carriers’ lines of travel. As such, the addressing information, including the community name-state-ZIP Code line of each address, will reflect the office or origin for that letter carrier.”
Where Monkton is concerned, all of this was figured out a really long time ago, it turns out.
“Several towns have always been involved in rural delivery to Monkton,” said Gill Coates, president of the Monkton Museum & Historical Society. Coates pointed to a directory from the 1880s that listed North Ferrisburgh, Starksboro, Vergennes, Bristol and New Haven as Monkton’s rural delivery sources.
“Rosters for soldiers also listed different town addresses for people living in Monkton,” Coates said.
But the world was a tad less complicated the century before last. Today, mailing address confusion affects more than just the mail.
Monkton resident Bill Martin owns and manages Greentree Real Estate, also in Monkton.
“An agent from out of town might pull a tax bill according to the mailing address and list the property as, say, North Ferrisburgh,” Martin said. “And potential buyers will see the listing and say, ‘Oh, that must not be in Monkton.’ ”
Ironically, the mailing address for Martin’s Monkton home is Hinesburg, while the mailing address for his Monkton business is North Ferrisburgh.
To cut through the confusion, Martin rents a P.O. box at the Monkton Post Office.
“It’s a real problem,” he said. “If I’m ordering something online and put Monkton, the software says there’s no such address.”
Quite the opposite happens when Monkton residents dial 911, whose “locatable” address system is based on the physical address of a structure.
“People calling 911 do sometimes give dispatchers their mailing addresses,” said Barbra Neal, executive director of the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board, told the Independent. If those don’t match with what dispatchers are seeing on their screens, “there needs to be some conferral.” Usually, she added, “this gets worked through.”
Neal was alarmed to learn that some Monkton residents had experienced emergency service delays of up to 90 minutes because of addressing confusion.
“That should not be happening,” Neal said. “It’s really important for E911 to know about any issues. If people experience problems with the 911 system, they should reach out to us as soon as possible.”
Vermonters can call the E911 Board at 802-828-4911 (a non-emergency call) or visit e911.vermont.gov.
On the non-emergency side, Monkton Town Clerk Sharon Gomez says she would be happy to print out a voter registration for anyone experiencing difficulty at the DMV or anywhere else requiring proof of physical address.
Where everything else is concerned, Monkton resident Paul Low approaches the mailing address issue from a business owner’s perspective.
“It’s time to move on and be creative about your situation,” Low said on Facebook. “The post office must maintain some scrap of profitability, but it can’t here. It will not change. We simply do not have the population to support our concerns.”
Selectboard chair Stephen Pilcher agrees. The USPS would probably sooner close the town’s post office than rearrange its delivery system.
Long-time Monkton postmistress Dottie Shea had been operating a 100-square-foot post office out of her garage, when in 2006 she decided she wanted to retire. The first thing the USPS wanted to do was eliminate the Monkton Post Office, Pilcher explained.
It took the intervention of Vermont’s congressional delegation — at that point Sens. Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords and Rep. Bernie Sanders — to find it a new home and keep it open.
Seven years later, amid USPS downsizing, the Monkton Post Office again narrowly avoided closure.
Now its hours have now been drastically reduced.
That, too, has been frustrating, said Monkton resident Joan Holloway.
“Many people and home-based businesses in Monkton depend on the Monkton Post Office,” she wrote on Facebook. “And yet and yet they, the federal government, seem determined to shrink and destroy our post office.”
Reach Christopher Ross at email@example.com.