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Concerns regarding impact on local mail deliveries

WILLMAR — Early Wednesday morning postmasters in large and small post offices across the country got an email with instructions to download a video from the U.S. Postal Service.

The video was a message informing workers that Saturday delivery of first-class mail would stop in August.

Under the plan, packages would still be delivered and mail sent to post office boxes would be delivered on Saturday, but otherwise regular delivery of mail to city and rural mailboxes would stop.

Other than that, there were few details revealed about how the changes would be implemented, said Todd Holm, Willmar postmaster.

“We just got the word,” he said. “We’re waiting to see how the details are all going to work out.”

Because the Willmar post office is a main postal “hub” and window service will still be available on Saturday, Holm said the change may not have a big effect on local employees other than employees will have two “stable days” off of work.

Because many businesses are closed on Saturday, Holm said Saturday is typically a “lighter day” for the Willmar post office.

He couldn’t say how the change would affect those on the receiving end but said it’s possible more people will request post office boxes in order to keep receiving mail on Saturday. Holm said there are empty post office boxes available to customers.

One business sector that will feel the pinch are community newspapers, said Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor News in Benson and the immediate past president of the National Newspaper Association.

Anfinson, who is also the current chairman of the legislative committee for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, will be going to Washington, D.C., next month to hear directly from Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe about the changes and to lobby Congress to keep Saturday mail service alive.

Many rural customers get their newspapers delivered in the mail, which means they won’t get Saturday’s news until Monday.

“You eliminate a day of delivery of newspapers and it’s going to hurt democracy,” Anfinson said.

Filled with sale fliers that are beneficial to consumers looking for good buys and coupons, Saturday newspapers are also “big revenue makers” for daily newspapers, which have had their share of economic challenges, Anfinson said.

Eliminating that vital delivery day could deliver another financial blow to the industry that could “cripple” the pay and jobs of rural reporters and photographers who are “often the only people at the city council and school board meetings that provide that information to citizens,” said Anfinson.

The Saturday issue of the West Central Tribune is the largest newspaper of the week, said Publisher Steve Ammermann.

The Tribune has a daily circulation of 13,600 newspapers with about 3,300 delivered by the post office on Saturdays.

“For us, Saturday delivery is a big deal,” said Ammermann. “We may have to look at an alternate delivery system for that day.”

Ammermann said he knew it was inevitable that reforms would be necessary to keep the U.S. Postal Service financially viable, but that he would have preferred eliminating delivery on Monday — a day when mail delivery is suspended several times a year already for the observance of federal holidays.

Anfinson said if the postal delivery changes are put in place, newspapers will have to adjust.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he was disappointed with the decision to end Saturday mail delivery.

“Many Minnesotans rely on the mail to get their essentials like newspapers and paychecks, and for many parts of the state — especially rural communities — the U.S. Postal Service provides the only way to get something delivered,” he said.

“While I’m saddened by this turn of events, I will continue to fight to ensure Minnesotans have reliable and quality postal service they need,” said Franken.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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