USPS needs to shrink, postmaster tells Kiwanis
By Sarah Einselen
Galion postmaster Mike Willacker said at the most recent Kiwanis meeting that the U.S. Postal Service needs to trim its budget but is awaiting direction from Congress to do so. The Galion Kiwanis Club invited Willacker to speak at the Feb. 7 meeting, held in the Moose lodge on South Market Street.
“The post office is set up to deliver to every address in the country and that number of addresses grows by a million every year,” Willacker said. However, the volume of mail sent through the USPS has declined rapidly since its peak year in 2006. “We still have to deliver to every house, to truck mail to every city, but there’s less mail on those trucks,” he said.
“The post office wants to get smaller, they want to consolidate things,” said Willacker. The current goal is to trim $20 billion out of the present $80 billion budget by 2015.
And though Congress has oversight over the USPS—and dictates what it can and cannot do to trim its operations—the USPS is not funded through the federal budget, said Willacker. “There’s a lot of misconception that if they’re doing anything for us, it’s a buyout.”
Congress, the USPS and the President have proposed various solutions to the USPS’s current budget issues, but “Congress has a real problem agreeing with anything and coming up with a solution,” Willacker said. The USPS also has to work around current union contracts that do not allow for many layoffs. Since 2006, it has instead been reducing its workforce by leaving positions unfilled after employees retire. The USPS also hires more temporary workers than before, Willacker said, so it can more easily adjust when mail volume fluctuates.
“Galion is good right now,” he said. “We have the people that we need.” Some other locations are short workers and the post office usually tries to shift employees around rather than hiring more.
It helps that technology has taken over some jobs formerly done by people.
“Ninety percent of our letters don’t get touched by our people until the letter carriers,” said Willacker. Sorting is done by machine and frees up the carriers to take on longer deliver routes. Where carriers before were delivering to 400 houses, now they take the mail to 700–800 on a route, he said.
Some of the USPS’s current budget problems stem from a 2006 Congressional mandate that the USPS pre-fund its employees’ retirements, said Willacker. “So we have 10 years to fund the health and retirement benefits for the next 75 years.” The USPS has so far put over $30 billion into its retirement fund, he said.
The mandate was one compromise the USPS agreed to in order to get some favorable reforms enacted, but the compromise came in the USPS’s peak year, when revenues were looking good.
Then the downturn came in 2007, and with it the beginning of a drastic decline in mail volume. Willacker attributed some of the decline to increased Internet use, text messaging and online bill payment tools. Rising gas prices have also bitten off a chunk of the USPS’s budget—“one penny costs us $8 million,” Willacker said.
As for solutions—“there’s a lot of things that are out there but nothing has been decided,” he said.
The USPS announced in December that next-day delivery would cease because it was consolidating its processing facilities. “The theory is a lot of people aren’t using the mail for critical things,” Willacker said—choosing to communicate via phone or e-mail when time is of the essence—so next-day delivery isn’t as important as it used to be.
Another idea was to cut Saturday deliveries, a decision that has to be made by Congress.
“At one point I thought that had a chance,” Willacker said, “because it was the least controversial of the proposals. But they want that to be a last resort.
“Most American people have said they don’t really care one way or the other whether they get mail on Saturdays, if the prices don’t go up,” he said. Saturdays were chosen based on polls and studies and because most businesses don’t conduct business on the weekend.
“I don’t know when they’re going to come up with a plan,” he said. “I do know that the post office is saying it could run out of money by August.
“We’re all just kind of waiting to see what happens with Congress,” Willacker concluded. And no matter what changes are instituted behind the scenes, “you’ll still see carriers out on the streets,” he said.
The Kiwanians also discussed club business at its Tuesday meeting. Aktion Club representative said clubbers were happy to help out at the Jan. 31 Kiwanis Chili Day fundraiser. “They loved having the aprons on and showing off a little bit,” she said.
Linda Schiefer reported that the Chili Day had raised about $700 for the club, keeping with the event’s usual success.
The Galion Key Club will be holding a reading fair at the Galion Primary and Intermediate School buildings, taking over the project from the student government, and will send gift boxes to military members as it did last year. The Crestline Key Club will be selling candy and cans of pop to send to soldiers.
The Galion Kiwanis club meets every Tuesday at noon. For more information about the club, contact president Doug Greene at (419) 777‑7163 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.