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Heavy volume of holiday-season mail a challenge for Postal Service in Baltimore

December 05, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

The weeks since Frederick, Md.'s mail-processing operations were transferred to Baltimore have been challenging for the Postal Service, but only because of the heavy volume of holiday-season mail, Postal Service spokeswoman Freda Sauter said Monday.

"With the busy mailing season upon us there may be some days when some of our customers may be getting their mail a little later in the day and that's only due to the heavy mailing season," Sauter wrote in an email.

Since Nov. 19, mail that previously would have been processed in Frederick — including mail to ZIP codes beginning with 217 — has been processed at the Baltimore Processing and Distribution Center. That change was approved in August after the Postal Service determined consolidation would save about $4.2 million a year.

Other area ZIP codes might soon follow. Already, the Postal Service has approved transferring mail processing for 254 ZIP codes from Martinsburg, W.Va., to Baltimore by June. And on Dec. 19, the Postal Service will hold a public meeting on a proposal to transfer mail processing from Cumberland, Md., to Johnstown, Pa., Sauter said. That meeting is at 6 p.m. at Fort Hill High School in Cumberland.

"With the deep decline in mail volume due to current economic conditions and continuing electronic diversion, the Postal Service has an excess of employees and equipment in some mail processing operations," a Postal Service news release said.

The change has left some customers convinced that mail is taking longer to be delivered. In phone calls to Mail Call and The Herald-Mail newsroom, readers have described receiving mail days later than expected. In some cases, sale fliers, coupons and other time-sensitive advertisements have arrived after the sale is under way or over.

Asked about these situations, Sauter said any customers who have complaints should call their local post office to resolve issues they might have with their mail.

"The Christmas surge is upon us and we are still working on the fall mailing season so yes it has been a challenge," she wrote in an email.

Sauter said the Postal Service is committed to continuing to deliver "excellent service."

"The Postal Service has a dedicated and committed workforce," she wrote. "And they do phenomenal job and they deserve tremendous credit for achieving record service and efficiency during these very challenging times."

First-class mail, the main "money maker" for the Postal Service, is on the decline, Sauter said.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations, she said.

Meanwhile, the Postal Service is mandated to make $5.5 billion payments each year to pre-fund health benefits for future retirees, on top of $2.2 billion in annual heath benefit premiums to current retirees, Sauter said.

"The cumulative effect of almost five years of making these payments has stretched USPS finances to the limit," she said.

Since 2006, the Postal Service has closed 186 facilities and reduced costs by $12 billion, without laying off any employees, she said.

When the Frederick processing and distribution center closure was under review, Frederick Plant Manager Bruce Wall said all of that plant's 190 employees would be transferred either to the Baltimore plant or to other post offices.

Sauter said Monday that 120 Frederick employees will work in Baltimore.

Two Washington County post offices, Brownsville and Big Pool, were selected this summer to be studied for potential closure. No decision has been made on those offices, Sauter said.

"We are still waiting to schedule a community meeting," she said.

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