By Michael Howell
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is considering closing both the Missoula and Kalispell mail processing centers and consolidating the regional service in Spokane. This proposal comes on top of a recent announcement that about 85 post offices in the state would undergo study this summer for possible closing.
Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg attended a meeting in Missoula last Tuesday, November 29, at which USPS officials outlined their plan for consolidation of the mail processing centers and returned with some serious concerns. According to Plettenberg, the closure of the Missoula processing center would have dramatic effects on Ravalli County. She said it could slow first class mail delivery significantly from the current overnight delivery to a two to three day delivery time, as all mail would be shipped to Spokane for sorting and then returned through Missoula to the Bitterroot Valley. Plettenberg said bulk mailers such as the county, municipalities, school districts and certain private businesses and non-profit organizations would be especially affected.
Plettenberg said that elections could be affected as the use of mail-in ballots has grown tremendously in the last few years. She said the mailing of voter information, tax bills and jury notices could all be negatively affected.
Secretary of State Linda McCullough has expressed similar concerns about the effects on mail-in balloting, and warned of negative impacts on rural economies and community services across the state, as have all the state’s congressional representatives.
Earlier this month Senator John Tester, who serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that has jurisdiction over the Postal Service, succeeded in getting the panel to pass a bipartisan bill to prevent the Postal Service from closing rural post offices until it establishes clear criteria for determining whether a post office should be closed and fully considers alternative ways to save money.
Tester recently sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahue expressing his concerns about the proposed closure of the processing facilities. He notes that the Postal Service has already closed four of Montana’s area mail processing plants. He called the additional closure of these two in western Montana “unacceptable.”
“Montanans use mail service for business that’s often hard to imagine outside Montana. You can often hear live chicks peeping in local post offices each spring. Medicines for veterans and seniors often arrive by mail because pharmacies are few and far between. Each year more Montanans vote by mail using absentee ballots,” he wrote. Tester notes that in the 2010 general elections 47 percent of voters cast absentee ballots.
Montana state law allows the submission of absentee ballot applications until noon the day before election day, but requires absentee ballots to arrive at the county election office by the time the polls close on election day.
“By delaying mail delivery by at least a day, these closures risk disenfranchising Montanans and eroding the representative democracy of which we as Montanans and Americans are so proud,” wrote Tester.
Senator Max Baucus is also urging Montanans to weigh in on the proposed postal closings and has launched an online Resource Guide to help members of the public access information about the proposed closings “and make their voices heard in the process.” Baucus’ Resource Guide may be accessed on his web site at http://baucus.senate.gov at the top of the page under “Hot Topics”.
Representative Denny Rehberg has also joined the fray by instituting his “Mail Call Montana” initiative, asking Montanans to submit written comment about the important role their post office plays in their community and their way of life.
“The best policy decisions usually come from places like Montana,” said Rehberg in a press release. “Mail Call Montana is a way for us to get some of those Made-in-Montana ideas into the decision making bureaucracy in Washington D.C. The response to this effort has been overwhelming. I think it will be very helpful for the Postal Service to see for themselves that while their proposals may look good on paper, they simply won’t work in Montana.” Participants are encouraged to utilize their own local post office to send comments by mail.
The USPS is currently accepting comments on the proposed closure of the Missoula and Kalispell processing facilities. Comments must be received on or before December 14, 2011. Those comments may be sent to District Manager of Consumer and Industry, PO Box 7570, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-7570.