USPS urged to spare center

Eric Chavez, manager of USPS North Florida District, listens to an unidentified attendee a public meeting Tuesday on the proposed consolidation of the Albany USPC Mail Processing Center.

Eric Chavez, manager of USPS North Florida District, listens to an unidentified attendee a public meeting Tuesday on the proposed consolidation of the Albany USPC Mail Processing Center.

ALBANY, Ga. — Residents from throughout the area gathered Tuesday in the Kirkland Conference Center at Albany Technical College Tuesday with most focusing on one objective — convincing the U.S. Postal Service to spare the Albany mail processing center rather than consolidate it into the Tallahassee facility.

Facing billions of dollars in red ink, the USPS is pushing forward with unprecedented cuts to first-class mail service that would, if the agency’s plan goes forward, raise postal rates, slow delivery times and eliminate Saturday deliveries. For the first time in 40 years, there will be no expectation that a first-class letter will arrive the following day, even in surrounding communities, despite the cost of a first-class stamp increasing to 45 cents.

The nearly full room of people listened while Eric Chavez, district manager of the north Florida district of USPS, delivered an overview of the agency’s strapped financial situation and its plans for consolidation. The Postal Service, Chevez said, is in dire straits primarily because it has more employees and capacity than required to handle its dwindling first-class business. Specific to the issue of consolidation of Albany’s mail processing center on South Slappey Boulevard with the center in Tallahassee is under-use of existing mail sorting and processing equipment.

“A lot of people think of a postal processing plant as place where machines are sorting mail all the time,” Chavez said, “and that’s just not the case.”

Chavez said the biggest single problem from processing and financial points of view is the agency’s commitment to overnight delivery in surrounding areas.

“A lot of the machines aren’t running at all while we’re waiting on an overnight truck from, say, Macon or somewhere,” he said. “Our goal is to fully utilize our machines. There will be no change to express mail or priority mail. Only overnight mail will be affected.”

According to Chavez, because of the overnight factor and the drastic decline in first-class mail over the past several years, there are long periods each day when no machines operate at all. USPS officials believe consolidation with the facility in Tallahassee is the answer. Chavez said that mail would continue to be routed to Albany, but would then be forwarded to Tallahassee for processing, then returned to Albany. Chevez said that Albany is not being singled out for closure, but that 252 other sites around the nation are being looked at as well.

After Chavez’s overview, attendees were encouraged to ask questions or to comment. Seated at a nearby table were a group of three high-level managers from the North Florida Postal District, listening to each speaker. According to the panelists, they would also be involved in the consideration of attendee comments left on paper at meeting’s end or mailed in later.

The question posed to Chavez was whether a study had been done on how the loss of postal jobs might impact the Albany area economy. Chavez replied that no part of the study had addressed local economic impact and that the economic issue would have no bearing on a decision.

Another questioner asked if the wishes of elected officials would be considered in the decision-making process. Chavez answered that although the USPS is free to act without congressional approval, feedback from members of Congress would be considered.

During an emotional address, one attendee assailed the overall quality of the USPS, saying that lost and delayed mail had caused her “late fees” on two recent occasions.

“If service doesn’t get better I’m going to go to UPS for my overnight mail and so is everyone else in this room,” she said.

“I don’t believe you’ll get UPS to deliver a letter for 45 cents,” Chavez responded.

Another questioners asked Chavez if “any big plan like this” would be expected to have kinks. He asked what would be the “next step” if the proposed plan failed.

“I don’t know about any backups,” Chavez answered. “The plan is for this plan to work.”

Chavez said that in 2006, the USPS was required by law to fund its employee health care plan 75 years into the future in just 10 years.

“If we hadn’t been required to do that, we’d be making a profit, but we’d still be looking toward consolidation in order to plan for the future,” Chavez said.

According to Chavez, the agency lost more than $10 billion last year and is facing a $14 billion loss this year.

“The fact is that something has to be done or there won’t be a post office anymore.” he said.

Attendees were told to send any comments to: Albany GA CSMPC, Area Mail Processing AMP, Public Meeting.