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Post Office Adjusting to Changing Needs

While it is the busiest time of year for the U.S. Postal Service, the federal agency continues to lose money.  Next month, the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission plans to review 3,653 post offices for possible closure.  Those potential closures could significantly change postal service in the United States.  

Beginning January 22, 2012, the cost of a first class stamp will increase to 45 cents.  The following story was prepared by FBN’s Kevin Bertram, examining some of the issues. 

In a world where the technological marvels of email, social networking and live videoconferencing are commonplace, physical delivery services seem lost in the mail.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is charged by the U.S. Congress with delivering the nation’s mail across the country – enough letters and packages to comprise 40 percent of the world’s mail delivery. Yet, the advent of new, electronic forms of communication has forced USPS to look at changes.

One such change will occur in the city of Flagstaff, where the closure of processing operations will save more than $300,000 annually for the service, but also cost seven USPS employees their jobs.

In a press conference held on Sept.15 of this year, the executive vice president and COO for USPS, Megan Brennan, addressed the changing role of the service in a world where more and more communications are becoming electronic.

“We are responding to a changing marketplace,” Brennan said. “The reality is, volume has declined more than 43 billion pieces [of mail] in the past five years. And it will continue to decline. We are going to radically realign our mail processing network over the next two years, and we’re going to study 252 mail processing facilities for potential consolidation or closure.”

At least three of those 252 locations will be in Northern Arizona. The USPS has announced the mail processing operations in Flagstaff, Show Low and Globe will be moved to Phoenix, effective this month.

However, this does not mean businesses in these cities should be purchasing the packing peanuts two weeks ahead of time. Peter Hass, the spokesperson for the USPS’s Arizona District, said those sending and awaiting mail in Flagstaff will likely not notice the difference.

“The intent of the postal service, as was mentioned in the public meetings held for each of those locations, was that the postal service will not change the delivery time,” Hass said.

If a business in Flagstaff mails a package across town to another address, that package will travel to Phoenix for processing before returning to Flagstaff overnight.

“Delivery doesn’t change in terms of the means of delivery for residents of Show Low or Flagstaff,” Hass said. “They’re still getting the same mail delivery they got in the past. The commitment was to continue to provide overnight delivery.”

In a September Area Mail Processing (AMP) survey regarding the closure of operations in Flagstaff, the USPS found moving processing to Phoenix, including the cost of transporting mail to and from the former city, would save the service $329,795 annually. Due to one-time costs, only $XXX,XXX will be saved this year. According to the same document, the USPS will release seven employees involved with processing in Flagstaff.

Steve Hanson, the owner of Flagstaff Comfort Systems, said he finds the USPS layoffs to be unacceptable.

“What’s the economic impact of loss of jobs here – and eventual loss of families – because they are going to relocate if they can’t keep a job here?” Hanson said. “In summation, if this happens, it will be a blow to the ability to conduct business in Flagstaff and economically because of lost income [and the] loss of money spent by those families that leave.”

Hanson said he is unhappy with USPS moving processing operations to Phoenix, and thinks the long-term ramifications could cost more than the USPS will save.

“List me as a concerned business owner that is annoyed by the short-sighted planning to save $1.50 today, and what will cost all of us tons more money in the future,” Hanson said.

Hass points out that anything beside intra-city mail in Flagstaff has always been going through their larger neighbor.

“And of course all of the mail that is going across the country, around the world or what have you has been going to Phoenix previously, in any case,” Hass said. “Now it all goes through Phoenix.”

For now, the changes being implemented by USPS are limited to moving operations from Flagstaff to Phoenix. However, Hass said the Postal Service and the U.S. Congress are currently considering proposals to reduce delivery from six days to five.

“Certainly, one change that the Postal Service has been proposing would be to have a five-day delivery week,” Hass said. “We’d have delivery Monday through Friday and remove Saturday delivery, except for P.O. boxes. If that change ever does occur – and it does require an act of Congress for that to occur, and there are bills being proposed that include the removal of a Saturday delivery, giving us the flexibility to go to a five-day delivery week – P.O. boxes would continue to get delivery. That’s one change that the Postal Service has been proposing for quite a while now.”

Evan Midling, the owner of Starlight Books in downtown Flagstaff, said that despite the significant amount of shipping his store does, his business would likely not be as effected as others by any decrease in mailing days.

“We might get things to customers a day later, but I don’t think it would make a big difference,” Midling said. “Most of the books we ship, it’s media mail – it’s not really fast anyway, and people expect that. We do special orders in the store, too, so we tell people to expect to wait a week to a week and a half, depending on where it’s coming from.”

For some local businesses, the postal service has become less of a concern with the advent of electronic records and communication. Midling said his bookstore now runs finances and operations electronically.

“A lot of the business is run through emails, or electronic orders and payments,” Midling said. “Most of our utilities are paperless.”

However, not all owners have made the switch. Kris Fisette, the manager of the Weatherford Hotel in downtown Flagstaff, said her business finds paper records to be a better fit for them.

“We’re a small establishment here, and we do most of our work on paper,” Fisette said. “Our computer system is not set up for reservations, so we do that all on paper. Being a 111-year-old historic building and a small hotel, it’s more comfortable for us. We haven’t had any challenges with it, and we haven’t seen any reason to change. Why change something that isn’t broken?”

Midling said he concedes there are some things that cannot be done electronically.

“We ship books,” Midling said. “There’s no way to go paperless with that.”

And while some businesses in this electronic society may rely less on shipping services like those offered by the post office, many others rely on them more than ever, and say that is not likely to change anytime soon. FBN



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