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Rural postal cuts would not change processing center closures

Wednesday's announcement that the US Postal Service is considering reductions in hours for 13,700 rural post offices doesn't impact other plans that would close urban post offices, including three in the Spokane area. Those are in Hillyard, Parkwater and Dishman.

That's the view of Ernie Swanson, the USPS spokesman for Washington.

Swanson said the new plan also doesn't change earlier plans by the USPS to shut down some postal processing centers.

That plan, released earlier this year, would close processing centers in the TriCities, Yakima and Wenatchee, as well as one in Missoula.

Those closures would mean additional workers at Spokane's West Plains mail processing center. But a final decision on all those closures will wait until later this year, the USPS has said.  

Unlikely that Congress would approve cutting Saturday mail delivery

Last week a group of Spokane area postal workers and their backers gathered downtown to voice opposition to plans that would shut down hundreds of post offices and dozens of processing centers across the country.

The Postmaster General has said those cuts are needed for the privately funded, non-tax supported Postal Service to eliminate an $8 billion shortfall in its annual budget.
 
While people debate the issue of whether cuts at that level are needed, others are concerned that the Postmaster General will push plans to eliminate Saturday delivery.
 
That concern, however, seems to be one that won't gain much support in Congress; any initiative to cut Saturday delivery has to be approved by Congress.
 
Last week, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter in support of six day mail, rural post offices and new innovations.
 
Rep, Don Young (R-Alaska) joined a number of other D.C. legislators in circulating a letter that read, in part:
“Rather than pass legislation which dismantles the Postal Service, Congress must be a partner in building a postal business model for the 21st century,” said Connolly.
 
“By allowing the Postal Service to innovate and relieving the retirement prefunding obligation imposed by Congress in 2006 we can protect the infrastructure of a $1 trillion mailing industry while maintaining universal service for all Americans—rural, suburban, and urban.”

Area postal service workers rally Thursday, saying mail service will suffer

 

Area post office workers will hold a rally Thursday in   downtown Spokane, protesting planned cuts they say will degrade mail service.

The rally, organized by the American Postal Workers Union, starts at 4:30 p.m. at 10 N. Post.

It’s meant to call attention to pending cuts and future job losses that the union says are avoidable.

Needing to vastly shrink its budget, the U.S. Postal Service has laid out plans to close more than 220 processing centers and thousands of post office nationwide.

Jack Talcott, a Spokane Valley postal worker and union spokesman, said the closing of processing plants in Yakima, Pasco and Wenatchee will eliminate the one-day delivery Spokane and North Idaho residents currently have.

The postmaster general has said the final decision on cuts and closures would be made on May 15. Talcott said Congress can still intervene and adopt other budget cuts that would avoid most of the closures and preserve existing mail service.

The rally’s goal, Talcott added, is “to educate people so they know what may happen to mail service.”

He said the likely scenario if the three Washington centers are closed would be: all mail normally processed there would be routed to Spokane’s center near the Spokane airport. Even though 22 or so new workers would be assigned to the Spokane center, the extra volume of mail would create a workflow bottleneck.

“It would definitely change what is now a one-day delivery schedule for area mail,” Talcott said.

If Congress makes no changes in the proposed cuts and closures, the postmaster general’s office would start implementing closures and some layoffs in late May. 

USPS will not decide on post office closures until May

Thursday's Spokesman.com and today's Spokesman-Review had stories about planned mail processing center closures, and the resulting increase in volume to be felt at the Spokane center near the Spokane Airport.

Still undecided are considerations by the USPS to close post office buildings around the country. At one point the USPS said it might close up to 3,600 post offices as part of an effort to eliminate an immense $3 billion budget shortfall.

Several Spokane area post offices have been on the list for possible closure. Ernie Swanson, the Washington state regional USPS spokesman, said no decision on the post offices will be made until May 15, at the earliest.

On a related matter, the USPS is still trying to find a sub-leasor for office space it vacated at the Crescent Court building in downtown Spokane.

Swanson said no new agreements have been made to sublease the 24,000 square feet in the building. The USPS said last year it's paying about $490,000 per year for that space, formerly used when Spokane ran a regional office. That regional office closed and was consolidated in Seattle.

Endangered species get stamp of approval

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Stamp your mail with a note of confidence in the Endangered Species Act by purchasing the recently introduced Save Vanishing Species semipostal stamp, available at post offices.

Although there's no similar tool for dedicating a few cents to this good cause when you send an email, the stamp is an easy and inexpensive way to help conserve wild tigers, rhinos, elephants, great apes and marine turtles around the world — every time you mail a letter.

By purchasing the stamps, which feature the image of an Amur tiger cub, at a rate of 55 cents per stamp — slightly above the cost of first-class postage — the public can directly contribute to the on-the-ground conservation programs overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders programs.

“The Save Vanishing Species stamp offers the public a convenient way to help conserve some of the world’s most endangered animals, from the white rhino to the mountain gorilla to the leatherback marine turtle,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

This is the first U.S. postage stamp issued in the 164-year history of the Postal Service that will raise funds for international wildlife conservation.

The five funds enacted so far by Congress are:

The African Elephant Conservation Act of 1988, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1998, the Great Apes Conservation Act of 2000, and the Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004.

 

To learn more about the Wildlife Without Borders Multinational Species Conservation Funds and the Save Vanishing Species stamp, visit: www.fws.gov/international/semipostal.Follow the Service’s International Program on Twitter @USFWSInternatl and on Facebook, USFWSInternationalAffairs.

Spokane would likely gain jobs in U.S. Postal Service shuts Montana centers

UPDATED 11:45 Dec. 6:

After a conversation Tuesday with USPS District spokesman Ernie Swanson, we'll now add these details to the story:

  • In addition to possible western Montana processing center closures, USPS sites in Pasco and Wenatchee that might close would also affect Spokane's processing center headcount.  No firm numbers are being discussed, and it's not certain any of those four sites (Kalispel, Missoula, Pasco and Wenatchee) will be closed.
  • Any closures won't happen until mid to late 2012, Swanson said. Decisions will be made around March 2012. Any closures would take a few months to plan and execute, he said.

Postal officials say the closure of two Montana mail processing centers could add jobs to the Spokane processing center, on the city's West Plains.

No decisions have been made about any closing of post offices or processing centers. The discussion has started getting more focused as U.S. Postal Service officials are hosting meetings with communities that are on the possible-closure list.

About 40 jobs in western Montana would be eliminated if processing operations in Missoula and Kalispell are shut down. 
 
All the processing from Montana would shift to Spokane, according to plans by the postal service. Spokane's operation would not be reduced.
 
District spokesman Ernie Swanson offered no estimate on how many jobs Spokane would gain if the Montana sites are closed.
 
Postal officials say they expect the mail carrier to lose about $5 billion this year. One study estimated that shutting the Missoula center could save an estimated $1.2 million per year. 
 
Other operations targeted for possible closure are in the Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, Kent, the Puget Sound area and in Oregon.
 
A decision to make the cuts final will be made in the first quarter of 2012.

DeePee: Post Office Still Good Value

DeePee (RE: U.S. mail to slow down even more): Ah, “Hatred!” as Mickey Rourke cheered to those dogs in “Barfly.” (or as the Davies boys sang to each other on that great late Kinks album). What a thread you’ve got going here. Here’s the thing. The Post Office was Ben Franklin’s idea of the Internet way back then. And should the power go out we’ll need it as much as the folks in the 18th Century did. What’s killing the Post Office, excuse me, Postal Service, is the perpetual lie of the price of a stamp. Let it rise with the price of everything else. Let us keep the great service we have — in the past two weeks I have gotten letters sent from Wallace on a Friday and received in Connecticut and New York on Monday — but charge fair value for it. I think a buck or even $2 is fair, to get a letter picked up from my house and delivered to somebody’s front porch on the other side of a continent is a very fair value. Eggs aren’t 25 cents a dozen anymore, and a gallon of milk ain’t a dollar anymore either.

Question: What do you think of DeePee's idea of mail users paying fair, higher value for letters?

U.S. Mail To Slow Down Even More

Letter carrier Diosdado Gabnat moves boxes of mail into his truck to begin delivery Monday at a post office in Seattle.  (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Dropping a first-class letter in the mail in the morning and expecting it will get to its destination by the next day would be a thing of the past under changes the U.S. Postal Service is detailing this hour. But there will be no change in the Post Office's commitment to deliver a first-class letter anywhere in the continental U.S. within three days, spokesman Dave Williams just told reporters on a conference call. Widely anticipated and laid out in broad terms back in September, the changes are part of a broad restructuring — which includes the anticipated closing of up to 250 or so processing facilities and the elimination of about 28,000 more jobs/Mark Memmott, NPR. More here.

Question: Can you live with even slower snail mail?

Postal Service here says get your own tape, ours isn’t free anymore

Postal Service employees have been given the word:  No more free tape left on retail counters.

Certainly you have to hope even this little bit of savings will make a difference, at a time when the  U.S. Postal Service is looking at losses of at least $10$5 billion in fiscal 2011.

The flyer here, handed out internally to downtown Spokane postal workers, lays out the rules. It sums up the new harsh reality of No More Free Tape. Customers won't find rolls of tape to use on packages or containers. In other words: buy your own, or buy tape from the post office.

Another sign of the new hard reality: The Postal Service is giving customers notice they should return any stolen items.

A Nov. 11 Washington Post story noted: Starting Saturday, the cash-strapped delivery service said, it is giving customers two weeks to return stolen equipment, no questions asked.

The USPS spent nearly $50 million last year replacing equipment that was stolen or inadvertently taken and never returned by customers, officials said this week, labeling such thefts “a serious issue.”

“We are in a financial crisis and simply cannot afford this type of unnecessary expense,” said David Williams, vice president of USPS network operations. “The equipment is federal property, and we want it back.”

US Postal Service lists parcel shipping deadlines for the holidays

Despite the dour forecasts for the U.S. Postal Service, they still do a solid job during the holiday season.

They helpfully notified us of their recommended shipping deadlines for customers sending items domestically; so here they are:

First class mail, cut off date Dec. 20

Priority mail, cut-off date Dec. 21

Express mail, cut-off date Dec. 22

Parcel post, cut-off date Dec. 15 

First class postage will go up by a penny in January

First class postage stamp prices are going up by 1 cent starting in January, the U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday.

The cost of a first-class stamp — also known as a Forever Stamp — will climb to 45 cents on Jan. 22, the first price increase in more than 2 1years, USPS said.

Other costs, including the price of mailing magazines, standard mail and some package services, will also go up.  Express Mail and Priority Mail prices will not change.

The goal is generating an additional $888 million in revenue, postal officials said Tuesday.

Ex-postal worker sentenced in mail theft

An ex-postal supervisor and Air Force veteran will be on probation for five years for stealing prescription medication from mail.

Mark Charles Raley, 46, of Spokane also will pay $5,045 in restitution under a sentence imposed this week in U.S. District Court in Spokane. He pleaded guilty in May to two counts of theft of mail by a postal service employee.

Raley was a supervisor at the U.S. Postal Service Spokane Processing and Distribution Center when he became addicted to hydrocodone after undergone gastric bypass surgery. He was being treated at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center but grew heavily addicted and began sorting mail looking for VA package containing hydrocodone. He wouldn't steal any other prescription drugs, according to court documents.

“Mr. Raley does not have a checkered past and was not looking to profit from his conduct by selling to others; rather, he simply sought to support his hydrocodone addiction,” according to a sentencing memorandum prepared by his lawyer, John McEntire.

In a prepared statement, Michael Seitler, an Office of Inspector General special agent in charge of the VA’s northwest field office, said Raley “prevented numerous veterans from receiving the medication they desperately needed.”

Raley entered a drug treatment program offered by the VA in December shortly after being confronted about the thefts. He continues to attend drug rehab and is living in a clean-and-sober house that requires him to take random drug tests.

Raley wants to attend school to be a substance abuse counselor, McEntire said.

The Riverside Station’s big move: who will feel it most? Plus, bonus name trivia

Some leftovers from last week's big announcement that the U.S. Postal Service will move out of the downtown Riverside post office.

First: some of the area's businesses will feel the impact. Close to 1,000 post office boxes are rented at the Riverside office, and many belong to nearby businesses. Those boxes will also move out, in the first half of 2012, when the downtown station is relocated.

Question One: Who's going to feel the relocation the most?  Vote for your choice.

  • A) U.S. District Court and its associated offices (judges and magistrates).
  • B) U.S. District Attorney's office (in the Foley building).
  • C) The big law firms in the Lincoln Building across the street.
  • D) The Cowles Company, which relies on the post office for inbound and outbound mail.

Another tidbit: the downtown Riverside office was never known as the “Main” post office, according to our historical research. The “main” office is by tradition the name only for the one that houses the local postmaster's office.

The current postmaster, Karen Fairlee, didn't move into the downtown office until 2000. Fairlee said the head office, before then, was at the old Terminal Annex, where Gonzaga's baseball field is now.

“The postmaster moved downtown in  2000 and since everyone knew (the downtown office) as “Riverside” (because that had been the office name for 90 years), the designation was not officially changed,” Fairlee explained in an email.

“Currently, the proper title is the Riverside Station,” Fairlee added.  

Several mail thefts reported in Valley

Here's a news release from Spokane Valley police Sgt. Dave Reagan:

Numerous Spokane Valley residents living in the area of 14300 to 14600 East Sixth reported their mail being stolen from street-side rural mailboxes between Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon.

Residents found their mail opened and tossed on the ground along the roadway. It was unknown if the thief found anything of value to steal, but identity thieves frequently target mail to obtain personal financial information which they then use to victimize the intended mail recipient.

Outgoing personal checks provide thieves with the names, addresses and account numbers of checking account holders, and incoming mail can provide pre-approved loan applications which can be activated with a simple signature.

Although financial institutions usually cover the victim’s monetary loss, it can take months or years to fix the victim’s credit history damaged by the suspect’s thefts.

Law enforcement professionals encourage all area residents to purchase a locking roadside mailbox to receive incoming mail on rural routes, or to rent a mailbox at the nearest post office.

Outgoing mail containing checks or cash should always be deposited in the larger blue U.S. Postal Service mailboxes located at shopping malls, grocery stores or in front of post office annexes.

Making a federal case of it

The news about the imminent closing/relocation of the downtown post office bums me out.

And it's not just because of my assumption that the little P.O. box I have there will wind up someplace less convenient.

No, my disappointment stems partly from the fact that I actively enjoy my weekday visits to a symbol of federal jurisdiction.

I like being in the post office and thinking, “If I'm ever charged with some weapons violations insanity along the lines of Randy Weaver, I fully expect the United States to come after me with the full might of the law.”

Local governments can do good things. But over the years they've also come up with such gems as “state's rights” as an excuse to discriminate and school boards discouraging the teaching of evolution. It's a long list actually.

OK, I know there are plenty of people around here who think the federal government is evil. And I would acknowledge that several agencies have lost their way a few times after 9/11. But most knee-jerk Fed-haters are fools or worse, in my opinion.

I have a protected right to say that, of course. We all do. And like the other big freedoms, that's a national reality. It wasn't established by some city council, county commission or noxious weeds board.

   

The Riverside post office’s history includes the notorious office ‘sneak hole’

Today's story about the plan to close the Riverside Avenue Post Office and relocate in a smaller building downtown provokes this question:

How will this affect your regular life?  As a business person, what's the impact?  As a regular or occasional user, how does it change things for you?

The justification for the move is clear; the US Postal Service doesn't need that much space, especially after sending the carriers who use it to another office.

We found a few interesting tidbits while conducting research. One of the most interesting is this item found in the GSA archives of its historic buildings: 

In additition to the ornate floors, the building contained a common feature in post offices of the era. The “sneak hole” was a specially constructed, enclosed gallery located above the postal workroom that allowed inspectors to secretly observe the actions of employees through strategically placed peep holes. The “sneak hole” is no longer in use today.

 

What would you do if those three Spokane area post offices close down?

A news item this morning reports the possibility that a number of area (Eastern Washington, North Idaho) post offices could be closed.

Which leads to the question: what's the best next use for any of those buildings that do might close?

Three Spokane area offices are on that possible list: those in Hillyard, in Dishman and Parkwater.

I'm eager to hear what you'd propose be the best next uses for those locations, assuming they could be converted. 

No, not another Starbucks. My suggestion: Hillyard's post office becomes a guitar-making studio and woodworking shop.

Small town post offices

Town Council member and resident historian Evelyn Heinevetter has printed signs in support of the town’s post office building, to the left, in Waverly. Waverly is among about 2,500 small and rural towns with post offices targeted for closure by the USPS. SR photo/Dan Pelle

Reporter John Stucke has a great story today about the U.S. Postal Service's plan to close the post office in the small town of Waverly south of Spokane Valley and how the residents are fighting to keep it. In a small town a post office can almost serve as a community center. That's where you run into your neighbors and stop to chat. That's where you post flyers and notices. In some towns, like Waverly, it's pretty much the only business around. But the Postal Service is trying to save money by shutting down thousands of such small post offices. Read John's full story here.

Man arrested in post office burglary

A 20-year-old Metaline Falls man faces federal charges for allegedly burglarizing the town's post office last weekend.

Derick Ray Hughes is in the Spokane County Jail without bail after investigators determined he stole a digital camera and three money orders worth $585 from the post office between closing Saturday and opening on Sunday.

Two people who cashed the money orders at a bank in Ione, Wash.m, told a U.S. Postal Inspector that they'd cashed them for Hughes. Hughes admitted to breaking into the post office and stealing the items from packages.

Authorities found other stolen items in his apartment at 109 E. 5th Ave. on Monday, according to court documents.

Two men arrested in a similar break in at a Spokane Valley post office in February are to be sentenced in June.

All stamps will be forever

This “forever” stamp honoring The Indianapolis 500 is included in the U.S. Postal Service’s 2011 postage stamp collection.

WASHINGTON – Rummaging around for 1- and 2-cent postage stamps when postal rates go up is heading the way of the Pony Express. Beginning in January, all new stamps good for 1 ounce of first-class mail will be marked as “forever.”

The move is designed to help customers cope with postage increases, a U.S. Postal Service official told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

How often do you mail letters or bills?

USPO Returns Ballots For More Postage

Item: Additional postage has absentee voters licked: Post office admits ballots should not have been returned to citizens/Tom Hasslinger, Coeur d’Alene Press

More Info: Absentee ballots across Kootenai County were returned to voters who tried to mail them back to the elections department recently after a postage snafu - even though post office rules regarding mailed votes say they should have been delivered anyway. Turns out, mailing back the two ballots on weight and size alone should cost 61 cents, not the standard 44 cents. Post office rules state that votes should be delivered anyway, as a way to ensure they are counted, post office staff said Wednesday.

Question: What do you make of this snafu?

USPS Wants To Raise Postage 2 Cents

The post office wants to increase the price of a stamp by 2 cents to 46 cents starting in January. The agency has been battered by massive losses and declining mail volume and faces a financial crisis. Postal officials announced a wide-ranging series of proposed price increases Tuesday, averaging about 5 percent, and covering first class, advertising mail, periodicals, packages and other services. The request now goes to the independent Postal Rate Commission which has 90 days to respond. If approved, the increase would take effect Jan. 2/Associated Press. More here.

Question: Should the U.S. Postal Service be thinking of ways to transform its mission in this era of the Internet, rather than continually asking for hikes in first-class mail?

Retired postal inspector convicted, sentenced for mail misuse

A retired senior postal inspector who held a high position with the Postal Service in San Francisco was sentenced in federal court in Boise today for mailing 64 separate parcels containing everything from his golf clubs to a microwave oven to Boise, where he had purchased a home last summer and was retiring, without paying postage on the parcels. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the inspector, Gregory Staisiunas, 50, sent the parcels via registered mail using “penalty cover” labels that showed postage and fees had been paid; those labels were supposed to be only for official government mail. He also admitted sending liquor and ammunition through the mail, which is illegal. Convicted of two misdemeanors and five petty infractions, Staisiunas was sentenced to $2,504 in restitution for the unpaid postage, $13,944.57 in fines and 200 hours of community service. Click below to read the full news release from the Idaho U.S. Attorney’s office.

USPO Offers Hero Job Back, But …

Item: Postal service offers fired letter-carrier hero another job, but … it cuts his pay in half and eliminates vacation and benefits/Alecia Warren, CDA Press

More Info: But the post office’s gesture doesn’t have the 21-year-old elated. The casual clerk position is a big step down the ladder for him, he said, after climbing the ranks through the post office for three years. “It will basically cut my pay in half, take away union, take away vacations, no other benefits,” he said. But doubting he could find anything better with the state of the economy, he accepted.

Question: Is this sufficient amends by the U.S. Postal Service for a wrong-headed decision to fire a young hero?

Press: Hire Hero Mailman Back

Isaac Fish, a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, makes his way back to his mail truck Wednesday after hand-delivering mail to June M. Smith on his route in Coeur d’Alene. (AP Photo/Coeur d’Alene Press, Shawn Gust) 

So North Idaho isn’t known for having a longstanding love affair with government. But the anger that erupted online Tuesday — not just from the peanut gallery, but from some readers who claim to be insiders — set a modern local standard for governmental disgust. The cause? Our front page story Tuesday about the heroic postal carrier who saved a woman’s life, had a minor accident running into a mailbox later that day, and has been fired from his job starting this Saturday. “Every silver lining has a cloud,” wrote one reader. “If you are a hard worker, and do a good job working for the people — you have no future in the government,” posted another/Coeur d’Alene Press. More here.

Question: Should the postal service rehire Isaac Fish?

USPO: One Day Less Of Mail?

Item: Mail may show up less often after cut: Post office considers five-day delivery/Washington Post.

More Info: Worsening economic conditions and the changing habits of Americans are threatening to do to the U.S. Postal Service what few things can: stop delivery of the mail, at least for a day. In testimony before a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, Postmaster General John “Jack” Potter said the post office may be forced to cut back to five-day delivery for the first time in the agency’s history, citing rising costs and an ongoing decline in mail made worse by the global recession.

Question: Would you be drastically affected if the U.S. Postal Service delivered mail 5 days per week instead of 6?