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Cutting Saturday delivery

Brenda Ahlfs picks up a mail parcel on her route Thursday afternoon on Minnesota Avenue in Detroit Lakes. Brian Basham/Record1 / 4
Brenda Ahlfs delivers mail along Minnesota Avenue in Detroit Lakes Thursday afternoon. Ahlfs is a 33-year post office employee who clerked and delivered when she first started on the job. Brian Basham/Record2 / 4
Detroit Lakes Postal carrier Ross Axdahl sorts mail for his city delivery route Friday morning at the Detroit Lakes Post Office. Brian Basham/Record3 / 4
Mail carrier Jim Fudge sorts mail for his Detroit Lakes City 5 route Friday morning. Brian Basham/Record4 / 4

In the hopes of saving the United States Postal Service $2 billion, Saturday letter delivery will end as of Aug. 5. Package delivery will continue though.

"There's no way of knowing what the particular impact is going to be on any one office at this time," Postal Service Spokesperson Pete Nowacki said.

But there will obviously be an impact to the post office, the carriers and those receiving mail.

"I haven't seen any specifics on how they're going to handle that," Detroit Lakes Postmaster Paul Collins said. "It's a good question, how many parcels and how long does it take to deliver them on Saturdays. That will have to be figured out."

For the rural routes, there will extra mileage involved since there won't be the same amount of carriers driving the routes with no letters to deliver.

"They'll have to give us some guidelines, especially on the rural routes, how they want us to handle that," Collins said. "Nobody has given us any specifics yet of what the plan is."

Detroit Lakes has five city routes and seven full-time rural routes and one auxiliary route that isn't as long.

Four clerks just retired from the Detroit Lakes Post Office as part of an early retirement incentive program. Whether that would be offered to carriers now, no one is certain. Nowacki said though that no one will be losing jobs over the change.

"We're not anticipating any layoffs at this time," he said.

The change in delivery doesn't change office hours or access for those who rent PO boxes in the post office.

"If somebody wants their mail on Saturdays, they'll have to rent a post office box," Collins said.

Over the past few years, post offices have been cutting back hours or consolidating, trying to save money. That could continue as well.

Keeping package delivery

The reason behind keeping the package delivery versus cutting all delivery on Saturdays is because package delivery continues to grow for the postal service. Growth has increased 14 percent in the last two years.

"It has not seen the suffer in decline as other mail," Collins said.

Nowacki said this is an idea that's been tossed around for a few years and it wasn't well received in the beginning.

"We got a lot of concern from those in the rural area, especially those that relied on us for medications or maybe parts for machinery and things like that, wondering if they were going to be marooned on Saturday."

So to solve that, the postal service will deliver packages on Saturdays but not letters.

"By and large, this is an idea that's proven fairly popular with the public at large," Nowacki said.

There have been several national polls, he said, and the results have all come back at 70 percent of the public in favor of the cut delivery.

"It's going to affect us somehow or another and I can only assume it's going to be the same across the country and they're going to have to come up with some kind of plan to probably cut the staffing, either through moving people or offering an early out, some method," Collins said.

He said he has a few employees that are nearing retirement, but no one can be sure what will happen either.

"I'm not sure where it will all shake down in the end. We're just trying to get us back in the black," he said.

Numbers behind the savings

In 2006, Congress passed postal reform legislation that said the postal service would prepay retiree health benefits ahead of time.

"We're the only federal agency asked to do that," Nowacki said. "We're doing that to the tune of about $5.5 billion a year."

The last two years, the postal service has defaulted on those payments though.

"At the time it happened, it was something we thought we could take on, but then mail volumes fell through the floor from pretty much 2006 on," he said.

In 2006, the postal service delivered 213 billion pieces of mail. Last year, the number had dropped to 160 billion.

"It's quite a difference, and for us, each one of those (pieces of mail) represents revenue."

The postal service only makes revenue through postage and other services. It does not get any funding from the government or taxes.

Nowacki said the postal service has looked at every way to "squeeze some savings out" and this is part of the plan. Alone, it's not the final answer to savings, but it is $2 billion in savings for now and a good start for the postal service.

"Honestly, I think this is something we can do that isn't going to have a giant impact on most customers. And we can see some pretty significant savings out of it," he said.

Since 2006, the postal service has also reduced its annual cost base by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000, or 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations.

Last month, the cost of postage increased as well, with first class letters increasing one penny to 46 cents.

Those not happy about cut

Nowacki said that since all carriers are part of a union, everything will have to be agreed upon before it's put into place.

"So much of what we do is governed by the labor agreements we have with our various unions and we'll be working with unions working up to this to make sure everything is done in accordance with that, and work with the employees to kind of smooth the transition for them as much as possible."

In a statement regarding the Saturday cut, the National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando said that the postmaster general's decision is a "disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers."

He said it will hurt small businesses, rural residents and the elderly the most.

Rolando expressed his dismay with Postmaster General Pat Donahoe's plan and said it was going against even the will of Congress. He even calls for Donahoe to step down from his position, questioning his ability to run the postal service.

"Instead of offering a real business plan to tap the full potential of this essential American institution, he is offering a plan that will doom USPS to failure," Rolando said.

The National Newspaper Association also released a statement not in favor of the Saturday delivery cut.

NNA President Merle Baranczyk said, "The U.S. Postal Service's announcement ... is an indication USPS is moving further and further away from the universal service the American public expects.

"This unfortunate decision sees packages as profitable but forgets the importance of money in the mail for small businesses and thousands of American communities who depend upon local newspaper delivery on Saturdays."

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.