February 24, 2012 10:02:00 PM
A two-pronged proposal, structured to help the U.S. Postal Service recoup its fiscal solvency, will affect Columbus customers, but not in the way many had hoped.
Four mail processing centers in Mississippi are slated to consolidate with larger state operations, but the processing center consolidations will not alter whether or not the Main Street post office is removed from a separate potential closure list, said Doug Kyle, spokesman for the state postal service district.
USPS announced Thursday that in an effort to cut costs, mail processing centers in Grenada, Gulfport, Hattiesburg and Tupelo will close.
Mail which was formerly routed through Grenada -- such as mail leaving Columbus -- will be handled by the Jackson processing and distribution facility. Mail routed through Gulfport and Hattiesburg will now be routed through Mobile and mail which once went through Tupelo will now go through Memphis.
But the consolidation plan is contingent on Congress passing a second proposal to revise existing service standards, changing from delivering First Class mail in one to three days to delivering it in two to three days.
Eliminating overnight delivery of First Class mail gives more flexibility to USPS, allowing smaller processing centers to close so mail can be sent to larger facilities with faster processing capabilities.
The caveat is in order to operate most cost-efficiently, the mail will have to travel farther distances, making one-day delivery impractical for regular mail. Overnight delivery will still be available for Priority and Express mail.
If Congress doesn't pass the service standard revision for First Class mail, the processing center consolidation won't work and likely won't be implemented, but if the entire proposal passes, USPS stands to save more than $8 billion per year, Kyle said.
"So much of First Class process and delivery is dependent on how far you have to carry mail to process it and carry it back for delivery," Kyle said. "... We've made a lot of strides in the efficiency of processing mail once it gets here -- we can process 36,000 pieces an hour -- but we're still driving the same roads at the same speed limits we drove 20 years ago."
The Postal Service has experienced a 25 percent decline in First Class mail volume since 2006, and it receives no tax dollars for its operations, relying instead on the sale of postage, postal products and services.
"The decision to consolidate mail processing facilities recognizes the urgent need to reduce the size of the national mail processing network to eliminate costly, underutilized infrastructure," said Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan. "Consolidating operations is necessary if the Postal Service is to remain viable to provide mail service to the nation.
USPS lost $8.5 billion in 2010, which has prompted it to scrutinize facilities closely, trying to determine which make sense to keep open and which should close.
Since 2006, USPS has seen plummeting revenue. The proposed changes are part of a comprehensive plan designed to reduce operating costs by $20 billion by 2015.
But the mail processing center consolidations aren't related to the postal service's July announcement that 3,653 post offices nationwide -- including the downtown Columbus office -- were under review and could be closed.
The processing center and post office closure proposals are related only in the respect that both plans are intended to bring USPS out of its financial spiral, Kyle explained.
Even if the existing service standards are changed and the four processing centers in Mississippi are consolidated with other centers, it won't remove any brick-and-mortar post offices from the closure review list.
At any rate, nothing at all will happen until at least May 15. The postal service agreed to a moratorium on closures and consolidations in order to give Congress time to enact an alternative plan.
Kyle said a post office would only be removed from the closure list if an internal review indicates that there wouldn't be enough of a financial benefit.
"Something has to change, and it has to change big-time," Kyle said. "Otherwise, we're looking at being $20 billion in debt in just a few years."
Sixty-one Mississippi post offices are on the potential closure list. The downtown Columbus office, built in the Colonial Revival architectural style, is detailed in a 17-page document filed in 1980 with the National Register of Historic Places.
In the document, it is listed as one of the "three most significant governmental public buildings in the community," along with the Lowndes County Courthouse and Columbus City Hall.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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