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Waits not rates causing buyers' ire

July 03, 2002|by LIZ BOCH

lizb@herald-mail.com

A couple of days after stamp rates increased, postmasters in the Tri-State area said it is the long lines at post office windows, not the rate hike, that has upset customers.

Tom Barbery, postmaster at the main office in Martinsburg, W.Va., said he has not heard one complaint about stamp rates.

"There are some short tempers, but that's because of the long lines, not the rate change," he said.

Postmaster Cindy Bussard of the main post office in Chambersburg, Pa., agreed.

"Honestly, I'm totally shocked. People haven't even been upset," she said.

On Sunday, nearly a year since the last increase, the price of a first-class stamp rose from 34 cents to 37 cents. Stamp rates rose from 33 cents to 34 cents last July.

Some customers said they have wrestled with increases before and are more upset with waiting in line.

After estimating her wait at 25 minutes at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, Hagerstown resident Cynthia McCarney said she was going to buy stamps later.

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"I was getting ready to buy, but the lines are too long. I didn't even attempt to get in line," she said.

Barbara Hutton of Hagers-town said she disapproves of the rise in prices and waiting in line.

"I'm upset with it," she said. "I'll use e-mail more often. People are paying bills online. Who needs to write a check anymore? Plus, you can send pictures online, too."

Keith Guerrin, postmaster at the main post office in Hagerstown, said rates rise because the postal service no longer relies on government subsidies.

"We lost that in 1970, and now the products people purchase keep us afloat. That's it," he said. "And we still forward mail up to a year for free. Where else can you get that service?"

Barbery said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 contributed to the increase.

"That day cost us a lot of money," Barbery said. "Decontamination of post offices and medical care for employees infected with anthrax cost about $500 million. Plus, people stopped using the postal system for a while."

Both Guerrin and Barbery related the increase to cost-of-living adjustments. Barbery described it as similar to rising food prices, Guerrin to gasoline prices.

"Gas prices shot through the roof and with our fleet of vehicles, it costs millions of dollars," Guerrin said. "It was only a couple years ago that gas cost $1.05 a gallon."

The postal service is selling three-cent stamps to combine with remaining 34-cent stamps, however, Guerrin suggests purchasing 37-cent stamps as soon as possible.

"People right now are just flipping out about three-cent stamps," he said. "They're buying more than they need and won't be able to use them all."

On Monday, Guerrin sold about 50,000 three-cent stamps and had to order more.

Gary Williar, a clerk at the Hagerstown post office, said he has stopped fielding calls.

"Monday was a nightmare," he said. "I won't pick up the phone. The line was out the door all day. 'How much are three-cent stamps?' That's the best question. I say, 'They're on sale for three cents.'"

After selling all of the 20,000 three-cent stamps she ordered, Bussard suggested waiting to buy three-cent stamps until lines go down.

"People get shook up," she said. "If you don't have to mail it right away, wait. Count your 34-cent stamps and only buy that many three-cent ones. Then convert to the 37s."

Barbery said rates are not expected to rise for another three years. He bought his own 37-cent stamps last week to avoid the "long lines and impatient people."

"I anticipated the lines and did it ahead of time," he said.

Guerrin said he is stuck with too many three-cent stamps.

"I have no more 34s and I have 10 three-cent ones," he said. "I'm one of those people."

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