PASCO -- Almost 100 people shot their hands into the air when asked if they opposed the closure of the U.S. Postal Service's Pasco Processing & Distribution Center.
Loss of local jobs, how delivery changes would affect local businesses and the relatively insignificant savings were the concerns raised Tuesday by area residents during a public meeting at the Pasco Red Lion.
Pasco's facility is one of about 250 in the nation that the U.S. Postal Service is considering closing because of the agency's financial troubles. This year, the Postal Service is expected to lose $10.5 billion.
The closure would eliminate overnight delivery for first-class mail and change the service standard to two to three days, said Don Jacobus, senior plant manager for the Seattle District of the Postal Service.
Part of the reason the service is considering the radical change to its mail processing network is the drop in first-class mail volume, which pays for the infrastructure. Nationwide, that volume has declined by about 20 percent, Jacobus said.
And those volumes aren't going to return because people are communicating electronically instead of by mail, he said.
Pasco's mail volume only has decreased by 4 percent, pointed out John Michael Wald, president of the American Postal Workers Union Tri-City Area Local 2293.
The union represents about 87 Pasco postal employees who work as clerks, custodians and mechanics.
Postal Service employees say part of the agency's money troubles have been caused by the federal Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which requires the agency to prefund 75 years of retiree health benefits during a 10-year period. And they criticize the discounts offered to large businesses.
The Postal Service is a self-supporting agency. While it answers to Congress, its operations have been funded by the sale of postage, products and services since 1982.
If Pasco's mail is moved to Spokane, its retail side would remain open, Jacobus said.
Pasco would be used as a hub where collected first-class mail could be consolidated, he said. But that mail, instead of being canceled and sorted in Pasco, would be transferred to Spokane.
No change is suggested for standard mail, said Bob DeBoard, manager of in-plant support for the Seattle District.
The consolidation is expected to save $800,000, Jacobus said. That takes into account transportation costs of more than $2 million for moving mail the 130 miles between Pasco and Spokane.
That is insignificant compared to the debt the Postal Service faces and doesn't justify the changes, Wald said.
The Pasco facility at 3500 W. Court St. sorts mail from every city that has a ZIP code starting with 993, which includes as far east as Waitsburg and Touchet, north to Othello and Royal City and south to Paterson.
On average, the Pasco processing center sorts 200,000 pieces of mail a day. During peak times, from late October through Christmas, the facility sees 500,000 to 1 million pieces of mail a day.
The Postal Service also plans to move Yakima's mail handling to Pasco by July to save about $1.2 million.
Postal Service employees and members of the public criticized how the study presented Tuesday did not include moving Yakima's mail processing to Pasco. Officials said that was being looked at separately.
One Tri-City business owner said he is terrified what the proposal could mean to his dental prosthesis business. Since moving to the Tri-Cities in 1986, he said he has had excellent mail service.
And a former postal service worker said if the changes were made, sending a letter from Walla Walla to Milton-Freewater likely would take more than two days. The mail would go from Pasco to Spokane, Portland and Pendleton before arriving in Milton-Freewater.
The change also could cause delays in delivery of medication through the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, which provides health care to the region's veterans, Wald said.
According to the study, the net number of affected employees would be two. Jacobus said some may need to change jobs, hours and work locations.
Wald said he doesn't see where the savings come from if only two jobs are cut. It's not realistic with closures of other facilities to say the Postal Service can absorb the jobs, he said.
It could force about 40 employees to move to follow work, and would have an almost $2 million effect on the local community, Wald said.
"The impact on this community is more than the numbers that you put up there," he said.
Jacobus said most of those presenting the information Tuesday would say exactly what Wald did. That's why it is key for people to submit public comments.
"It is necessary for us to fight back," he said.
The study is preliminary, and a decision could be made by March.
To comment to the Postal Service, send a letter to Manager, Consumer and Industry Contact, Seattle District, P.O. Box 90306, Seattle, WA, 98109. Comments must be postmarked by Dec. 14.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org