PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: Cost cutting mean cuts in
rural service for postal patrons
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 4:53 AM
While all the attention was on the elimination of Saturday mail delivery in August, a notice was sent to our central plant, where our newspapers are printed, that the mail processing center in Rochester was being closed March 1. The change probably won't be noticed by many, but it is just one in a series of decisions by the U.S. Postal Service that is hurting rural residents.
For this business, it means scrambling to find alternative means of delivery for our Bluff Country Reader, which will no longer be accepted in Rochester for delivery to post offices served by the 559 zip code.
Instead, we can truck them to Eagan, Minn., and get the same discount we have been receiving for dropping them in Rochester. However, that change adds the cost of a weekly 150-mile round trip to our expenses.
Another option is to pay more to the postal service and leave them at a local post office where the publication will be trucked to Eagan on postal trucks and then shipped back to local post offices, a process that we are afraid is going to mean delays in delivery.
That isn't idle speculation. When the Decorah center was closed down and the Iowa mail, commonly referred to as bulk mail, went to Des Moines, there were problems.
As our printing plant manager, who wasn't pleased with the scant three weeks notice in Minnesota, observed, "They are charging us more for worse service."
The kicker is that the processing for some mail is being transferred to a Rochester post office, but it will only take mail destined for Rochester addresses, not the outlying towns around Rochester in the 559 area.
Local residents may feel the effects in first class mail as more processing centers are closed in the attempt by the postal service's desire for extreme consolidation. As more centers in Minnesota close, leaving the only option remaining in the Twin Cities, will the postal service be able to move that volume of mail quickly? Will it care about residents outside the main population centers?
Sure, the postal service is in dire straits. Some changes are needed as it lost $15.9 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. However, it should be noted that just $2.4 billion of that loss is due to mail delivery operations as the remaining is due to an unusual requirement that the service pre-fund its employee retiree health benefits for 75 years.
The plan announced by Postmaster General Pat Donahoe to end Saturday delivery is expected to save the postal service $2 billion.
However, these decisions to deal with the losses indicate a trend away from serving rural areas and focusing on the most profitable services and areas. That's why the agency said that even after it stops delivery on Saturdays, it would still deliver packages on Saturdays, which means it will be driving right by most mail boxes without delivering letters.
Donahoe has said that he believes the postal service is a business and should be run like one. It makes sense to instill good business practices in operations, but is the postal service really a business?
Would any business take on delivery of letters at 46 cents each to homes even if they are located on sparsely populated township roads miles from civilization?
The answer is no. That's why the postal service is what its name implies - a service that is particularly important to rural residents that don't have the numbers to make any type of delivery pay off for private enterprise.
The restructuring is taking away from the constitutional mandate of universal service to America. And, it is likely to continue.
As the service deteriorates and costs rise, the postal service will probably lose more customers, thus creating a downward spiral that requires more cuts. Perhaps it will eliminate more days of delivery or decide that rural delivery is just too cost-prohibitive any day.
Some of you may consider snail mail obsolete, but it is important to many people, including rural businesses, and not just for the delivery of our newspapers. Many of us depend on the timely delivery of bills, payments and goods to and from rural communities.
Poor rural mail delivery could be an economic development issue. Will businesses decide to locate elsewhere if they can't depend on prompt mail delivery? Will residents fear late charges for payments on bills due to sluggish receipt of bills and payments?
It's disappointing that the postal service seems to be abandoning rural America, but we will cope with this. After all, we have been dealing with the centralization of corporate America for decades now as decisions in the auto industry and others have made a negative impact on rural life.
In our case, we are going to have local people haul our newspapers to individual post offices, a cost that is offset somewhat by discounts for direct delivery. We get great customer service locally and the postmasters have been extremely accommodating as we try to maintain our level of service.
Still, it's irritating that we have to tackle so much in an effort to maintain a certain level of customer service for our product as the national postal service retreats from rural America, but that's what we do to survive.
The changes in service by the postal service officials at the federal level may be ultimately choosing winners and losers, but we aren't about to let them write us off just yet.