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Consolidation WILL impact mail service

May 18, 2011

On Tuesday, officials with the U.S. Postal Service told Hickory Metro residents that if a mail processing center here is consolidated into Greensboro, mail service won't be seriously impacted.

"It should be transparent to most of our customers," said USPS Greensboro District Manager Russ Gardner.

Moments later, Gardner admitted that's not exactly true.

The fact is, if USPS consolidates mail processing from Hickory into an operation 81 miles away, it will impact customer service in a very visible way, particularly if those customers subscribe to The Observer News Enterprise. If mail processing consolidation occurs, readers of Catawba County's community newspaper will no longer be able to receive same-day delivery through the mail. Instead, the newspaper will be treated like every other piece of mail, with no guarantee for arrival time.

Currently, The O-N-E is printed every night, Monday through Friday, and delivered — same-day — to thousands of subscribers countywide. For instance the Thursday edition of The O-N-E was printed Wednesday night; our staff inserted advertising circulars and Outlook into the paper; they labeled it with an address sticker; sacked it according to mail routes and delivered it to the Newton Post Office and the Hickory Processing and Distribution Center by 4 a.m. Thursday. Then, when Thursday's mail was delivered today, the Thursday edition of The O-N-E was included for our subscribers.

If USPS consolidates mail processing from Hickory into Greensboro, all that comes to an end. The reason is simple: "You will have no place to drop it," Gardner said of bags of sorted newspapers we deliver to the processing facility nightly.

When I attended the Area Mail Processing (AMP) Town Hall meeting in Hickory on Tuesday, I went not just as a reporter, but as a customer of the USPS. You see, for the past five years or so, our newspaper — and by extension our subscribers — has paid a significant amount of money to USPS to ensure The O-N-E is delivered on time, and in the mailboxes of our subscribers. And with a few glitches here and there, the relationship has worked well. The O-N-E has been a good customer, paying our bills as required, and the USPS has been a pretty good service provider.

All that will end if and when USPS consolidates mail processing from Hickory into Greensboro. When I brought our newspaper delivery arrangement to the attention of USPS officials Tuesday, it seems they couldn't have been more surprised.

"How will my newspaper delivery be impacted?" I asked.

USPS officials were stunned in silence, looked blankly at me, before confirming my worst suspicions: service, as subscribers to The O-N-E currently know it, would be terminated completely.

USPS has figured consolidation could save $3.5 million a year by cutting expenses and redundancy in Hickory. At the same time, however, cutting those expenses, clearly means cutting revenue, at least revenue provided for delivery of The O-N-E. And if USPS can't provide same-day delivery of our newspaper, what other aspects of service will be impacted? Conover Mayor Lee Moritz Jr. said his city has seen a nine-fold increase in returned mail that, in some cases, has resulted in residents' utility service being cut-off simply because USPS couldn't get a bill — or a payment — delivered on time.

I suspect Catawba County's newspaper and Conover aren't alone.

Consolidation of the mail processing facility will impact 82 cities in 11 counties, and something tells me there are plenty of other newspapers and utility service providers that rely on USPS for prompt delivery in all those places, too.

When USPS claims customers won't be affected by consolidation of mail processing in Hickory, this statement is simply not true. Mail customers — as well as the businesses that USPS serves — will be significantly impacted by this decision.

That's why I'd encourage you to contact our representatives in Washington, D.C., to voice your concern over this matter. Staff members from the offices of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry were present at Tuesday's meeting.

Contacting their offices will be a good place to start.

U.S. Rep Patrick McHenry: 224 Cannon House Office Building. Washington, D.C. 20515; fax (202) 225-0316; or visit his website at www.mchenry.house.gov.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr: 217 Russell Senate Office Building,Washington, D.C. 20510; fax (202) 228-2981; or visit his website at www.burr.senate.gov.

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