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Posted 9/21/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

After years of running massive budget deficits due mainly to its inability to reign in its massive labor costs and generous pension system, the U.S. Post Office is finally getting serious about putting its financial house in order.
It’s about time since the agency lost an astounding $8.5 billion last year and is on target to lose nearly $10 billion this year.
For years the U.S. Postal System (USPS) has seen its volume of mail slashed by competition with private package haulers and people who have chosen to use electronic mail as a way to conduct their business and to pay their bills. All the while, the postal authorities have had their hands tied when it came to reducing its work force or to streamline its operations because of union contracts.
And to make matters worse, the post office faces legal constraints that prevent it from diversifying into new lines of business, and it is also barred from raising postage prices faster than the rate of inflation.
It is in everyone’s best interest for the USPS to come to grip with what is happening to it financially, but the solution is going to be a very bitter pill for everyone to swallow.
So how is the USPS going to solve its financial woes?
Initially, it was suggested that many of its financial woes could be handled if it could shut down 3,700 post offices across the nation (including offices in Grassy Butte, Arnegard, Mandaree and Cartwright in McKenzie County), eliminate Saturday delivery, and lay off 120,000 workers.
But that appears to be just the tip of the cutting that the USPS is considering. Last week, they upped the ante by announcing that over the next three months they will also be studying the possibility of closing 250 mail processing centers across the country, including those facilities in Minot, Grand Forks, and Devils Lake.
The end product is probably not going to be to anyone’s liking. Mail delivery service, which is already poor, is going to get a whole lot less reliable. In fact, one of the standards that the USPS is now proposing is to reduce first class delivery from one-to-three days (depending on how far the piece has to go) to two-to-three days. That means that there will no longer be one-day delivery of first class mail even within your own town.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what is going to happen when the USPS makes these hard cuts.
For the American consumer who has no other option but the post office to mail their packages (be it four or five blocks away for someone who lives in town, or the 50-mile drive for some rural patrons like those who live in the Badlands around Grassy Butte), the proposed elimination of a post office falls into the same category as the closing of a school or a church. It is heart-wrenching.
For many people, it will be one thing to mail your letters earlier so that they still arrive at their destination in time for that special birthday, anniversary or other occasion.
But for other dated material, any further delays in delivery can be devastating. Take your weekly newspaper, the McKenzie County Farmer, for instance. We pride ourselves on having our newspaper in the hands of virtually every county subscriber on Wednesday (an on Thursday for those in-county folk who don’t get Wednesday delivery.) In order to do so, we print our paper on Tuesday morning and then drive to Minot to pick up the vast majority of our in-county newspapers and drive them back to Watford City so that they can get into the mail on Wednesday morning. Obviously, it would be easier for us to mail ever paper out of the Minot Post Office, but in doing so most people wouldn’t receive their Wednesday paper until Thursday. And for us, that is not a viable option.
So like everyone else we, at the Farmer, are equally concerned about the quality and timeliness of the mail service.
It would be nice if the Postal System’s problems could just magically go away. Just as it would be nice if this country’s financial problems could go away. But they aren’t. The time for the painless cuts and fixes passed by years ago.
And now, when the cuts are made, there will be no winners and only losers.