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Postal cuts could hurt businesses

FARGO - Businesses that rely heavily on the mail to serve their customers are bracing for possible changes, including slower delivery of first-class mail.

The U.S. Postal Service is considering an array of cost-cutting moves that could involve closing and consolidating 252 of 487 mail-processing centers, including several in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The processing center in Fargo would remain open under the plans, but North Dakota centers in Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Minot as well as Bemidji, Duluth, Rochester and Waite Park in Minnesota are slated for closure, The Associated Press reports.

A Postal Service spokesman based in the Twin Cities said Monday that no decisions have been made.

"We are looking at something after the first of the year before we make any changes," said Peter Nowacki. "We're looking at this as part of the process, but a final decision has not been made."

The proposal would slow the delivery of most first-class mail from two to three days instead of the existing standard of one to three days.

Bill Hoverson, owner of Specials Deliver Inc., a direct-mail marketing firm in Fargo, said his business drops off bulk mailings days in advance to ensure it arrives during a requested window of time, typically a particular week.

"We do not expect next-day delivery on the day they receive it," he said. "We would expect two to three days delay."

In the past, the Postal Service has had five days to deliver bulk mailings.

"That may change," Hoverson said. "We don't know."

His business, which mails 3.1 million envelopes a year to 350,000 households in North Dakota and western Minnesota, has noticed slightly slower deliveries in recent weeks.

Curt Christensen, circulation director of The Forum, is concerned that mail subscribers could experience delays if mail service slows. A quarter of the newspaper's subscribers receive their papers through the mail, he said. The Forum trucks papers to Jamestown to enable same-day delivery, since news is time-sensitive.

"Our product is unique," Christensen said. "It's a new one every day."

Postal vice president David Williams said in certain narrow situations first-class mail might still be delivered the next day - if, for example, newspapers, magazines or other bulk mailers are able to meet new, tighter deadlines and drop off shipments directly at the processing centers that remain open.

The Postal Service faces imminent default - this month - on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the Treasury for retiree health benefits and expects to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year.

Proposed closures would cut about 28,000 postal jobs and would take effect in the spring, according to the Associated Press.

The agency already has announced a 1-cent increase in first-class mail to 45 cents beginning Jan. 22.

The changes in first-class mail delivery could go into place without permission from Congress, unlike a recently floated proposal to cut mail service to five days a week.

Possible North Dakota, Minnesota closures

North Dakota: Devils Lake, Grand Forks, Minot

Minnesota: Bemidji, Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522