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Businesses adjusting to postal changes

November 30, 1999|By PEPPER BALLARD

Mail soon will be priced by shape, not weight, a change that will affect some area businesses more than others.

May 14 is the effective date of the rate and fee changes for all classes of mail except periodicals, according to the U.S. Postal Service's Web Site at www.usps.com.

Prices go into effect for periodicals, including magazines and newspapers sent through the mail, on July 15, according to the Web site.

"We're moving away from a weight-based system to a size-based system ... This is to reflect that different shapes of mail have different handling costs," said Dave Partenheimer, a U.S. Postal Service spokesperson.

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Currently, a 2-ounce regular-size letter, a 2-ounce large envelope and a 2-ounce package all cost the same ? 63 cents at a first-class rate.

When prices change May 14, some of those pieces of mail will get more expensive, while others will cost less.

A wedding invitation, for example, typically weighs 2 ounces because it contains multiple sheets of paper, Partenheimer said.

After May 14, a wedding invitation that weighs 2 ounces will cost 58 cents, a 5-cent drop.

However, a 2-ounce large envelope, called a "flat," will cost 34 cents more when rates change, and a 2-ounce package will cost 67 cents more.

"We're encouraging mail that we can process more efficiently through our system," Partenheimer said.

Craig Miner, acting postmaster at the West Franklin Street post office in Hagerstown, said the branch has been working with some businesses to figure out ways to adapt to the new rates.

Miner said some businesses with which he's had contact have to "buy new sizers" for their mail and have to make other changes to adjust to the new format.

"Your business community ? they're aware of the changes. They're normally as well-versed as we are," he said. "Some businesses, the impact is postalwide, it's not just in one area."

Effect on businesses

David Grimm, franchise owner of Valpak of Cumberland Valley, said the rate change is a reflection of inflation, which he said is not something most people like.

"No one's happy about it, I don't think, but it's just like gas," he said. "The postal department has expenses as well."

Eight times a year, Valpak of Cumberland Valley mails more than 100,000 envelopes filled with advertiser coupons, Grimm said.

Prices for postage with his business are "going to increase," he said.

Grimm said his customers will not be affected because the mailings are free to them.

Jeff Paules, owner of Hub City Shippers, said the rate increases won't "really affect us that much."

The shipping center uses the U.S. Postal Service, but more often deals with FedEx.

"The thing that's really concerning now is that with the way the price of gas is, (FedEx) could actually raise their fuel surcharge rates on a weekly basis," Paules said.

John Courtney, owner of Pony Postal Center on Antietam Street, operates similarly to a post office, too.

"The customers have lots of questions," he said. "They want to know why it's happening."

Courtney said he is concerned that the new shape-based system will be more confusing.

"That is going to make things worse here," he said. "It's always been weight-based."

Courtney said the postal service should do a better job of advertising its new rates.

Kim Hines, owner of Greencastle Online Auctions, said she ships about 100 items each week through the postal service for her business' eBay sales.

Most of the items she sends via the postal service for her business weigh less than 2 pounds, she said.

"We'll have to increase our rates for items that have to be shipped postal," Hines said.

Businesses can find ways to lessen their mailing costs by trying to find ways to use the smaller-sized mailing options, Partenheimer said.

Folding mail into a regular-sized envelope that ordinarily would be sent flat in a large envelope is an example of one cost-saving measure.

"We realize, of course, that this won't work for all mailers," Partenheimer said. "Some people won't want to fold some things, for example, and we understand that some mailers won't be able to make those changes."

Other changes

The Postal Service made many changes in its proposed "rate case," a package of proposed rate changes that the governors of the U.S. Postal Service approved March 19, according to a written release. First-class postage increased to 41 cents and the "forever stamp," a 41-cent stamp that can be used for a 1-ounce letter even after future postage changes, was introduced.

The "forever stamp" can be used for future mailings without additional postage, Partenheimer said.

The delayed implementation for rate changes for periodicals was issued for the board's consideration of a possible "unnecessary degree of 'rate shock' in the catalog industry, particularly small businesses," according to the written release.

The governors also requested reconsideration for the nonmachinable surcharge and the priority mail flat-rate box, according to the release.

The May 14 postage rate increase is the first since 2002 that was needed to cover the postal service's operational costs, including higher fuel prices, energy prices and health-care costs, Partenheimer said.

A postage increase in January 2006 to 39 cents was used to implement a $3.1 billion escrow account required by federal law, he said.

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