Augusta processing center closing could cause problems

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman

U.S. Postal Service representatives might get an earful at tonight’s public meeting about the closing of half of the country’s mail processing centers, including the one in Augusta.

Among those sharing his opinion could be Randolph Frails, who said the Postal Service’s newest cost-costing proposal could seriously affect his law practice.

Asa lawyer, Frails has to have certain legal documents sent by mail.

“That’s going to be a problem,” Frails said of the proposal to close Augusta’s mail processing plant and send all first-class mail to Macon, Ga., or Columbia for processing. The loss of the mail processing center would mean delays for first-class mail from one to two days to two to three days, the Postal Service estimates.

The possibility of mail delays could be trouble for people who vote by absentee ballots, said Lynn Bailey, the director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.

Under state law, absentee ballots are mailed out on the Friday before an election. They must be returned by 7 p.m. Tuesday, election day, to be valid, Bailey said.

If it will take two to three days for a ballot to travel through the mail each way, absentee might no longer be a voting option.

“I think it could be a problem under current Georgia law,” she said. In the 2008 general election, about 10,000 paper ballots were mailed out, Bailey said.

The Columbia County water department uses the mail to send and receive payments. The bills go out on the last day of the month and about 99 percent of customers will get them on the first day of the next month, Operations Manager Mark Inglett said.

If there are going to be delays, the department might need to adjust timing, Inglett said. Bills are due by the 15th of the month.

“The last thing we want to do is cause any inconvenience to our customers,” he said.

Stephen A. Seewoester, the Postal Service media contact for the Augusta area, wrote in an e-mail that the Postal Service studied geography, facility capacity, transportation networksand equipment to determine which mail processing centers should be closed or expanded.

“In the past couple of years we have removed more than 1,500 pieces of equipment, along with $1.9 billion in costs,” he said.

Since 2006, 17 processing facilities marked for closing were allowed to continue operations when it was determined little or no savings would be gained or there were logistical challenges and capacity issues, Seewoester wrote.

The Postal Service recently submitted its plans to the postal regulatory commissioner for an advisory opinion.

The plans also include closing Georgia facilities in Columbus, Valdosta, Savannah, Athens, Albany and Waycross.

The closings were to start as early as April, but they are now delayed until mid-May.

“I’m happy to hear that the Postal Service has decided to delay these closures until May,” said U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who represents 12th District, which stretches from Savannah to Augusta. “I’ll work with members of both parties to make sure the Postal Service remains financially solvent and maintains the quality service folks and small businesses in Augusta expect and need.”

Press Secretary T. Peyton Bell said Wednesday that Barrow will have a representative at the meeting today.

Rep. Paul C. Broun, whose 10th District includes Richmond and Columbia counties, had no comment when his office was contacted.

U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia both said the Postal Service might have to bite the bullet and cut expenses to remain financially solvent, but both pledged to do what they can to minimize the impact on Georgia residents.

Evans lawyer John Garcia said that he thinks the impact on his business will be minor but that it will depend on how long the delay turns out to be.

Some court documents have to be delivered through the mail or by hand, he said. If he has to use hand delivery or next-day service, it will cost clients more money.

The closings and anticipated delays will open up the Postal Service to more competition, said Barbara Coleman, the associate dean of the Hull College of Business at Augusta State University.

Though FedEx and UPS might not be able to do daily deliveries, other businesses could jump into the competition, she said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: U.S. Postal Service public meeting

WHEN: 6 p.m. today

WHERE: Kroc Center

THE PLAN

The Postal Service has devised plans to close 3,700 local post offices and 252 mail processing centers. Consolidation would save more than $3 billion a year, according to the Postal Service.

Closing the Augusta mail processing plant would save $4.98 million each year, according to the Postal Service. It expects the loss of 30 jobs, with 80 Augusta employees transferring to expanded plants in Macon, Ga., or Columbia.

The Postal Service announced Tuesday that it was delaying the closures until mid-May to give Congress time to pass legislation that could help it stay solvent.

See a database of proposed postal service closings
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