Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried strongly believes the request he made to the post office last fall could not have been any easier to comply with.
He wanted to change the municipal designation for ZIP code 08691 from Trenton to Robbinsville. No ZIP code boundaries would change, nor would anyone’s ZIP code. It was what Fried thought would be a simple swap.
After years of campaigning and nearly a full year of official action, Fried received his answer last month from the United States Postal Service: no. On Aug. 1, a letter was sent to Fried’s office saying surveys were sent out to 5,263 addresses in ZIP code 08691, and 2,807 surveys were returned. The 53.3-percent return was short of the 80 percent required by the USPS. The letter provided no further details, but raised the ire of Robbinsville officials who say both the number of surveys mailed and the final percentage are cause for concern.
The USPS informed Fried in October 2015 that it would require a response rate of 80 percent of returned surveys, with 75 percent of those responses to be in favor of a change to “Robbinsville, 08691.” But township business administrator Joy Tozzi said the USPS’ best practices report recommends setting a simple majority of 51 percent as the benchmark for approval, a number Robbinsville surpassed.
Tozzi also questioned the number of surveys USPS sent out, saying the township had provided USPS with what officials thought was a comprehensive list of 4,877 addresses in ZIP code 08691.
“I have no idea who the extra 386 were sent to, and they refused to give me the list of addresses they mailed out to,” Tozzi said. “Additionally, our response rate was 53.3 percent, which is a simple majority. The post office also refuses to tell us out of the responses how many were in favor and how many were not. Again, they will not give us this information, which I am assuming is public information.”
This is a big deal, Fried and Tozzi said, because Robbinsville residents are at a disadvantage when ordering packages, asking for home or car insurance quotes or even calling towing services.
Township officials say complaints have come via phone calls, emails, Facebook and face-to-face at events. They estimate at least 60 people have taken the time to register their frustration. Fried remembered one Robbinsville woman who called him when a towing company sent the tow truck she needed to a similar address in the City of Trenton.
Residents of Union Street in Town Center say many of their deliveries go to Union Street in Trenton. Trucks delivering to Applegate Drive in the Matrix Warehouse Park sometimes end up on a side street in Hamilton of the same name—that street’s ZIP code, 08690, also is classified as Trenton. In mid-August, Tozzi spoke with a resident who complained her car insurance provider refuses to give her the lower Robbinsville rate because her address comes up as Trenton.
Fried is perhaps the most frustrated of all. The USPS sent out the surveys to residents in 08691 in late May, with a response date of June 10. Fried said he feels the timing around Memorial Day depressed response, but he isn’t sure what to make of the results because USPS will not provide the final tallies.
“They didn’t tell us when they were sending the surveys out,” Fried said. “They didn’t tell me we could lower the required response rate. We sent them a list of who to send the surveys to. They did not send us a list of who they sent it to. Numerous people did not get the survey, and the post office would not send out replacements. I couldn’t see the results. It is ridiculous. Open government is expected. It is the norm. This is embarrassing. I am filing an OPRA request. I want to see the results.”
The USPS followed its policy, USPS South Jersey District spokeman Ray Daiutolo Sr. said, including reserving the right to apply more stringent criteria, provided this criteria is mutually agreed to in writing by the Postal Service and the proponent of the change in advance of the customer survey.
“Most districts use a higher percentage to ensure that the action of the town meets the approval of the community as a whole,” Daiutolo said. “This gives the Postal Service confidence that the process gets the full community participation. The district, along with most districts, uses and has been using the higher percentages.”
The South Jersey District—which includes southern and central NJ, as well as Delaware—received written consent from Fried to administer the surveys, Daiutolo said. A letter was sent to Fried on Oct. 22, 2015 outlining the policies and the percentages. The USPS received a letter from Fried on May 19, consenting to the district’s survey proposal.
Fried objected to Daiutolo’s phrasing, saying he was not under the impression the town had the option of requesting a lower percentage.
“Ray is not being honest,” Fried said. “First, we were never told we could petition to lower the 80 percent; if we were, why wouldn’t we have? Let’s be honest. If I were giving out, 20 dollar bills at the municipal building, I doubt I could get 80 percent of the people to come in before a holiday weekend.”
Robbinsville is not alone in its frustration. Daiutolo said the USPS South Jersey District received five requests for ZIP code reviews this year. Four have been denied. One is under review currently. The other three requests were denied because “implementation would have been operationally prohibitive to the Postal Service.”
As it stands now, Robbinsville must wait 10 years before asking the post office again to survey the residents to see if there is sufficient interest to change the designation. This time around, Fried enlisted the help of United State Congressman Chris Smith and Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo to help petition the post office to make the change. With no luck despite cooperation at three levels of government, Fried wondered if a change was ever possible.
“It was a case of federal, state, and local governments working together,” Fried said. “I feel like the USPS was working against us the entire time.”