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USPS plans to finalize office reductions this year

12/19/2013

A look at some of the top stories from northwest Kansas in 2013.

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

As the final wave of office-hour reductions at rural post offices are set to begin, the U.S. Postal Service is admitting it's effectively insolvent -- by nearly $40 billion.

Most of that insolvency, however, is a result of congressional action in 2006 requiring USPS to pre-fund the federal employee retirement program for its workers. The postal service is asking Congress to do away with the requirement, even giving back its money.

In fact, this year's loss of $5 billion actually would be a net profit of $600 million if USPS didn't face the requirement of contributing $5.6 billion to that retirement fund. USPS defaulted on the payment, just as it did on two similar payments a year ago.

The resulting sea of red ink has prompted the postal service to push ahead with cost-cutting measures, including the reduction of window hours at approximately 13,000 small post offices across the nation -- including hundreds in Kansas. USPS also has asked Congress for authority to drop Saturday service.

There's been little movement on the request, however.

Already, USPS is asking for a 3-cent increase in the price of a first-class stamp.

Community meetings to detail the reduced hours already have been conducted at many locations across northwest Kansas, and USPS spokesman Brian Sperry said the rest will be completed by September.

On the list for reductions in the coming months are Bazine, Bird City, Bison, Bogue, Brewster, Catharine, Downs, Kirwin, Logan, Long Island, Norcatur, Otis, Palco, Paradise, Portis, Prairie View, Rexford, Rush Center, Utica and Wilson.

That's where permanent postmasters are located, and they will have the chance to move elsewhere within the system as jobs open.

"That's why it's going to take two years," Sperry said of the change, "to soften the blow a little bit."

Post offices already seeing reduced window hours are: Agra, Alexander, Almena, Alton, Brownell, Bunker Hill, Cedar, Collyer, Damar, Dorrance, Downs, Edson, Gaylord, Gorham, Gove, Grainfield, Grinnell, Healy, Herndon, Jennings, Kanorado, Lenora, Lucas, Luray, McCracken, McDonald, Morland, Natoma, Ransom, Selden, Sylvan Grove, Utica, Waldo, Weskan, Winona and Woodston.

In addition to reducing window hours, USPS this year also folded mail sorting responsibilities in Hays and Colby into other locations. Hays was rolled into the Wichita processing center, and Colby was folded into the North Platte, Neb., center.

In addition to this year's $5 billion loss, USPS reported losses of $15.9 billion in fiscal year 2012. Nearly $12 billion of that was a result of the prefunding requirement.

More importantly, Sperry said, the agency now has $40 billion in liabilities that are in excess of debt.

"If we were a regular company, we would have filed for bankruptcy already," he said.

That's why USPS is asking Congress for a series of changes, including dropping Saturday delivery, refunding excess retirement payments and letting the postal service run its own health care plan.

"We still have a long way to go," Sperry said of USPS getting its financial house in order.