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Declining volume leads to closing of post offices

WATSON -- There are nearly 3,600 post offices under review across the country for possible closure.

It's not clear how many will actually be closed in the months ahead, but post office closings in both rural and urban areas will be a fact of life.

The volume of postal activity has declined by 20 percent in the last five years. First-class, single-piece mailings have been cut in half over the last 10 years, according to Pete Nowacki, communications director with the United States Postal Service in Minneapolis.

''We're getting to a situation that's getting pretty close to a crisis,'' said Nowacki. ''We've about reached the top of our borrowing limit and we know that volume is down. It is difficult to maintain this network on the volume we're generating now.''

The move to electronic communication is the driving force behind the decline. As an example of what's happening, Nowacki points out that Americans made more than 140 million income tax filings with the IRS this year. Of the total, 100 million were completed electronically.

"That's 100 million stamps not bought, 100 million (mailings) not handled anymore and it's not coming back,'' said Nowacki.

The small town post offices under review for closing in Minnesota are offices where annual revenues are under $27,000 and expenses exceed revenues. Each will be evaluated individually after a 60-day public comment period.

Nowacki said the post office is also looking at ways to continue to maintain as regular and as effective a level of service as possible in those areas where offices are closed. He noted that nearly 40 percent of U.S. Postal Service retail sales now take place outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar post office buildings.

Ultimately, the fate of many post offices will be determined by how Congress acts or does not act. It would take congressional approval to move to five-day-a-week delivery, a cost savings measure proposed by some.

There is legislation in Congress to re-evaluate postal service pension funding in a manner that could improve the financial situation of the Postal Service.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is among the authors of a bill requiring the Postal Service to take all necessary steps to ensure that offices are not closed or consolidated and to ensure that effective service continues in rural communities where offices may not be self-sustaining, according to information from the 7th District congressman's office.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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