Post office seeks local input tonight on plans

Havre Daily News

by Zach White

While the U. S. Postal Service will be seeking public input at a meeting tonight in Havre, several of the public’s representatives have already been providing their input.

The meeting, at 6:15 p. m. in the Havre Middle School auditorium, is an attempt to judge local opinion on a proposed plan to move mail processing in the Havre Post Office to the Great Falls Post Office, which would lead to the loss of one job in Havre.

Havre is one of four post offices in Montana that could see such changes, with mail processing in Havre, Helena and Butte all moving to Great Falls and in Miles City consolidating processing in Billings.

In addition to processing changes, USPS is reorganizing administrative postal districts, eliminating seven of them across the country, including the Big Sky District for Montana.

The Big Sky District office in Billings will be closed, with 43 jobs lost, and merged with the Dakotas District office in Sioux Falls, to manage service for North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., released a letter he wrote on April 5 to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

The letter expresses the senator’s “deep disappointment” in the Billings change in particular, though that disappointment applies to the “lack of transparency” in the decision process, the USPS’s failure to cut other areas and its apparent disregard for rural customers.

“Before you take further action on the Area Mail Processing studies around the state… I expect to see detailed analysis of the projected financial and service operation benefits of these proposed changes, ” Tester’s letter says. “At this time, I have seen nothing that would lead to the conclusion that consolidating Area Mail Processing would improve the mail delivery in Montana.”

According to the letter, post offices in Helena and Butte already send mail to be processed in Great Falls on Saturdays. And while prior USPS statements have claimed that such consolidation would not affect service, Tester says that his constituents in Helena and Butte have noticed “that service quality is far lower.”

“Knowing this, people in Butte and Helena often wait until Monday to send items locally to ensure timely delivery, ” the letter says.

Tester goes on to say that he understands budget concerns, but there are other ways. Just a few years ago the cap on the salaries of USPS executives was removed and the “agency also has people ‘detailed’ to positions away from home all over the country; while paying travel, per diem, and lodging.

“There are other ways to save money than eliminating jobs of hard-working Montanans and negatively affecting mail service for my constituents, ” he wrote.

“As you seek the fiscal balance we agree is needed, it is critical that the Postal Service not balance its books on the backs of its best customers.”

Another concern about the change expressed recently to Donahoe, this time from Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, is about mail-in ballots.

“We fully anticipate the percentage of absentee mail ballots cast in Montana in 2012 to exceed any previous year’s total, moving the state closer to all mail-ballot elections — a process that would save counties an estimated $2 million every election cycle, ” McCulloch’s letter says.

“Any delays in the mail processing operation could unintentionally discourage Montanans from voting by mail.”

The secretary of state will be at the meeting in Havre tonight to express those concerns in person.

Mayor Tim Solomon also plans on attending the meeting.

He said he had visited with the local postmaster, Randal Schwartz, about the changes which “didn’t sound too major.”

“It’d be nice to hold onto everything in town, but I understand needing budget cuts, ” Solomon said.

Other community organizations are concerned as well.

The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce sent an email to its members encouraging them to attend the meeting.

Bear Paw Development Corp. Executive Director Paul Tuss sent a letter to Schwartz sharing his concern with a noted trend of consolidating mail services in more urban areas.