In this rural Washington County town, U.S. postal regulations and modern times have taken their toll on the old friendship of Postmaster Daniel Reeser and Mayor Paul Boswell.
The story, in a nutshell, is that the postmaster cut off the mayor's mail and the mayor cut off the postmaster's water. And they still aren't speaking.
It began in January, when the mayor became frustrated over the post office's refusal to give his town door-to-door service, something he had been trying to get for several years. Area residents who didn't have rural box delivery had to go to the town's post office.
Because of the town's small population--1,700 residents by Boswell's count; 833, according to the postmaster--Smithsburg never met the 2,500-resident-minimum required for front-door service. Earlier this year, however, additional delivery boxes were installed at most of the area residents' homes.
Those living within a four-block area of the post office, meanwhile, were still required to pick up their mail at the office's 320 rental boxes. Mail to the town hall, located just three blocks from the post office, also was picked up there.
That's when people in the downtown began to notice they weren't getting all their mail. Some letters that previously had been sent to street addresses were being returned to the senders. Among the missing: monthly water payments from town residents to town hall.
The postmaster said letters addressed by street number rather than new box numbers would be returned and that included mail addressed to the mayor.
One building contractor said his bid for a sewer project was returned when he addressed the envelope to "Town Hall--Smithsburg." The 42-year-old postmaster says he thought some correspondents were leaving off box numbers out of laziness and that's why he returned those letters.
That's when Mayor Boswell decided to do something dramatic.
"Okay, you guys won't send me my mail," the 65-year-old mayor remembers saying to himself. "Well, I won't send you your water then."
Boswell said he walked over to the curb in front of the post office and, with a twist of the pipe wrench, turned off the water. "The federal government and the postmaster don't run the town of Smithsburg--I do," Boswell maintains. "If the mayor of Baltimore . . . get s his mail addressed to town hall, then so should I."
Postmaster Reeser denies the postal service tried to interfere with the mayor's mail delivery. He said his employes will place the mail in the box if they know the number.
The water was turned back on at the post office after several dry hours. The mayor said he didn't want to make the postmaster so mad he couldn't get the routes changed.
But soon the mayor sent off several letters to government officials asking that home delivery be reinstated. He pointed out that Smithsburg is an incorporated municipality and not a rural area. But he said there has been no resolution.
Boswell told postal representatives he is losing "tens of thousands of dollars" of state revenues because of the new delivery system. He contends he is losing auto and property revenues that his town deserves because in some states revenues are based on the U.S. mail census. State tax officials, however, say revenues are based on income-tax returns, not the mail census.
Boswell also said the postal service does not recognize two new subdivisions as being part of his city. And, he points out, smaller Maryland towns, such as Middletown and Greencastle, still have front-door delivery.
Boswell said most of the town hall mail is making it to the post office box, with or without numbers. Town residents, however, still aren't getting all of their mail, he maintained.
Postal officials say that it is not economically feasible to establish home delivery because of labor costs. If they were to give city service to the "small town of Smithsburg," said John Kimball of the Postal Service in Baltimore, "then every small town in Maryland would want the same."
In a town like Smithsburg, which is east of Hagerstown, the postal service must spend $86 per house annually to give door service, but by restructuring the town route to rural service, it saves $17 per house a year, postal service spokeswoman Joyce Booker said.
Postal officials say they hope Mayor Boswell will eventually understand why they have revised methods of mail delivery to his town.
To clear up the confusion over addresses, residential post office numbers will be replaced by street addresses, Reeser said. Municipal mail will still be delivered to the post office, he added.