Postal officials hear Havre's opinions
More than 30 community members gathered in the Havre Middle School auditorium on Wednesday night to talk to U. S. Postal Service officials about consolidating sorting operations in Great Falls.
Those who spoke up ranged from wanting simple clarifications of what the change would entail to wanting the USPS to reconsider.
The main post office speaker was John DiPeri, the manager of the Big Sky District and soon to be head of the Dakotas District, which will include Montana and the Dakotas.
"We're just like any other business, trying to be more efficient, " DiPeri said.
With him were Billings Postmaster Todd Snyder and Havre Postmaster Randal Schwarz.
DiPeri said that the past decade had seen nationwide single-item deliveries drop from more than 50 billion items to nearly 35 billion.
Schwarz added that during the same period, Havre's daily processing had dropped from 4,000 items to about 3,000.
The post offices in Havre and Great Falls have large, old machines, that DiPeri said were created in the 1960s. This change would replace Great Falls' machines with modern devices, probably excess machines from a larger hub such as Phoenix.
The new machine could process all of the mail from all of the proposed consolidations, bringing mail from Havre, Helena and Butte to Great Falls, which will allow this down-sizing.
"Back when technology was big, we built a lot of facilities, " DiPeri said. "Now that it's smaller, we have a lot of excess space. "
Besides requiring less space, the postal service also is not used as often.
"The postal service used to be a good barometer for the economy, " DiPeri said. "This last recession we saw a huge drop. Then as it balanced or evened out, we didn't see the first class mail bounce back.
"We believe first class mail will never come back. "
While the other consolidations being considered could see losses of up to seven jobs, and savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Havre will lose what DiPeri described as a half of a position for a savings of $24,000.
"Of all the consolidations, it looks like Have will have the least impact, " DiPeri said.
Havre Area Chamber of Commerce Director Debbie Vandeberg did not like that statement.
"I am a little disappointed in that comment, " Vandeberg said. "Any impact on Havre is huge. I don't care if it's half a job. I don't care. "
She also said that she had gotten the impression that postal officials had already made up their minds, that the consolidation was already a done deal and the hearing was a formality.
"I don't think we've already made up our mind, " DiPeri said. "I'd say we're probably 75 percent done. "
Another speaker who was unhappy with the proposed change was local courier service owner Erik Meis of West Winds courier service. He told the representatives there that he already had enough difficulty in doing business with the postal service and that these changes would inevitably lead to even more.
Meis said that the loss of the air taxi service that the postal service currently provides, but would cease, would be catastrophic for his business, particularly the delivery of time-sensitive medical specimens. His business could lose up to $35,000, he said.
Snyder said that the changes would not affect that service much. As is, the flights from the Havre Airport go to Great Falls then to the ultimate. Under the new changes, a truck would leave Havre with enough time to still catch the flight out of Great Falls.
Meis told the room that this change is reminiscent of the last time jobs were moved to Great Falls in 2009, which led to large disruptions in service.
DiPeri said — and local postal workers at the meeting confirmed — that the local postmasters have the authority to extract in-town mail, from Havre to Havre, before it gets sent to Great Falls, so local service could remain consistent.
The postal workers said that would be a lot easier if the post office could replace the local-mail-only box they used to have before the 2009 move.
The separation of local mail before it is sent away was also a response to the concerns that Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch came to the meeting to express, about the effect on mail-in ballots.
McCulloch explained that mail-in ballots are increasingly common in Montana, and could soon be the only option which would save the state $2 million every election.
That plan could be compromised if mail service is delayed and votes end up not being counted.
"We're not like the IRS. We don't accept post mark dates, " McCulloch said. "All ballots have to be into election offices by 8 o'clock that night. "
Dennis Kuntz had a more forgiving view toward the postal service, recounting his amazement at the service they provide, before asking them if the Havre change is really worth it.
"If it's going to have the impact that we've heard, perhaps saving $24,000 is not the great idea you first thought it was, " Kuntz said.
DiPeri said the change is difficult for everyone. He said he had to deal with the loss of his 43-employee district office in Billings.
"It's not comfortable, " DiPeri said. "It's not something anyone wants to do, but the postal service is in survival mode. "