Postal budget cuts deliver changes to Nebraska

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August 4, 2011 - 7:00pm

Postal officials say the nation's mail delivery system is outsized compared to the amount of mail now being sent by people and businesses. More bills are paid online. More people are catching up on Facebook or through e-mail. Businesses have cut back on mailings in the economic downturn. To make up for billions of dollars lost in recent years, the Postal Service is downsizing and that could mean changes in how Nebraskans get mail.


Click here to see a Google map showing all Nebraska post offices slated to close, studied or planned for studying.

Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News

District Manager, Rick Pivovar, addresses a skeptical audience at a public meeting in Lincoln in June.

Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News

A USPS video explaining Area Mail Processing. The Postal Service claims it could save $1.2 million dollars each year by sending Lincoln mail to Omaha.

The possible changes reach across the state. Lincoln mail processing could be merged with Omaha. Several more communities will have their delivery routes merged. For instance, the Rushville route will be combined with Gordon. Gibbon will join with Kearney. A plan to merge delivery in Gering and Scottsbluff is on hold.

Also, small town post offices have been proposed to close in Alexandria, Colon, Crab Orchard, Dunbar, Garland, Ithaca, Nemaha, Rosalie, Rulo, and South Bend. Thirteen more towns have been studied for the same action and are waiting for a final proposal. Another 90 will be studied for either closure or transition to a Village Post Office embedded in another local business like a library, grocery store or pharmacy.

Those are just the changes in Nebraska. Thousands of post offices could close nationwide. More than 100,000 postal worker jobs have already been cut.

The reason for those widespread actions was laid out by Rick Pivovar at a June public meeting in Lincoln taking input on merging mail processing with Omaha. Pivovar is District Manager for Nebraska, Kansas, and part of Iowa. Referring to a descending bar graph on a wall-sized projector screen, he told a group of mostly business owners and postal workers that over the past 10 years the amount of mail handled by the Postal Service has dropped by 42%.

"Back in what I call the good old days we were exceeding 210 billion pieces of mail per year," Pivovar said. "We had capacity nationally to handle over 210 billion pieces of mail per year. Now we're down to 170 billion and dropping. We still have that same capacity. We have over 300 processing facilities to handle that 210 billion pieces. So the volume has gone down. We need to find ways to consolidate and still provide good service more efficiently."

As mail volume has dropped, the budget losses have piled up. The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last year and is projected to post another $8 billion in losses this year. Pivovar told the group that sorting Lincoln mail in Omaha could save $1.2 million per year, mostly through a reduction in work hours equivalent to 11 full time positions.

Business owners confused by the changes and postal workers concerned about their jobs responded with skepticism.

Doug Emery, a member of the Lincoln City Council, questioned whether there would be enough time to work through Lincoln mail after the mail collected in Omaha.

"My concern is that if you have a degradation of any kind in mail service that hurts businesses that might want to come to your community and I have a problem with that," Emery said.

Lincoln postal employee Duane Peterson also disagreed with the approach.

"From a business standpoint I understand why the Post Office is doing it," Peterson said. "But we're the United States Postal Service. We're not the United States Postal Business. We're supposed to be providing a service to the American public and what they're proposing is going to cut service.

USPS spokesperson Brian Sperry says the company receives no tax appropriation from Congress, so when the budget goes out of balance, it has to act the way a business would.

Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News

A copy of the proposal to close the Garland Post Office hangs on a bulletin board in the lobby.

Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News

Long time Garland resident, Gene Lunney, has picked his mail up from the Post Office for 40 years.

"We understand the connection communities have to their Post Office," Sperry said. "We've seen such a tremendous decline in our business and like any business that does not receive taxpayer dollars, and the Postal Service doesn't, we have to go in and cut costs. If we don't do that then we run the risk of not even having enough money to deliver the mail anymore and not being able to provide that universal service."

If city residents are concerned about losing some quality of service, small town residents are concerned about also losing an important community institution. In Garland, the Post Office is one of only a handful of businesses on Fourth Street, the main road through town. Between an old closed bank and a photo/design shop an American flag waves from the light pole and a blue mailbox sits by the door. This is where George Lunney has come to pick up his mail for 40 years. For Lunney, closing the Post Office would be a difficult loss.

"It hurts a town when you take something out of it," Lunney said. "It seems like the Post Office is more like the heart of a community. Just like years ago they closed the school here. That's like cutting off your right arm there and now you're getting your left arm cut off with the Post Office going out."

The Garland Post Office could close as soon as September. The USPS still has to make a final decision on shipping Lincoln mail to Omaha. It the plan is approved, the change could be made later this Fall.



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