Virginia Bandy/Brown Publishing Ohio State Representative Matt Huffman urged the USPS to have a third party look at the plan to consolidate the Lima and Toledo processing centers to see if it was viable.
Virginia Bandy/Brown Publishing Ohio State Representative Matt Huffman urged the USPS to have a third party look at the plan to consolidate the Lima and Toledo processing centers to see if it was viable.
By Virginia Bandy

Brown Publishing Correspondent

Hundreds of concerned people crowded the auditorium of Lima Senior High School on Wednesday night, looking for reasonable answers to their questions about the proposed consolidation of the Lima mail processing facility with Toledo. This consolidation would affect anyone whose ZIP Code begins with 458.

The United States Postal Service, represented by Chu Falling Star, Cincinnati District Manager, called the public meeting to share their initial results of an Area Mail Processing (AMP) Feasibility Study, and to gain feedback from the community. Falling Star read a presentation that explained the USPS reasoning behind the proposed closure of the Lima facility, which would move processing to Toledo.

The presentation had a recurring theme of the USPS goal of being efficient, cost effective, and more competitive in the global market. Statistics were shown that indicated that mail volume has decreased over the years, and the feasibility study stated that the USPS would see a savings of $1.4 million per year if the two facilities are consolidated.

Falling Star stressed that even with the "steady erosion of first class mail," that the USPS is "paying for resources that we are not using." These resources include equipment, facilities and workers. The USPS study indicates that 57 jobs will be eliminated in the consolidation, and other jobs will change in description, change in the number of hours, or change locations. She said "no-one will be laid off," and that the USPS would be "responsible and ease employee relocation."

She also addressed the concern that the mail would be delayed. "That is simply not true," she said. The USPS plans to reduce driving time and fuel consumption with the consolidation, and Falling Star insisted that delivery times would not be affected. She also said that pick up times at collection boxes would not change, but that transportation costs would have to be added in order to keep that standard.

During the question and answer period, numerous people took their turn at the microphone to express their concerns and to ask questions.

Drawing the biggest response from the crowd was Lima Mayor Dave Berger, who formally requested that the USPS conduct an "entirely open, public and transparent study." Falling Star had indicated that portions of the data are not yet available, including an estimate on those added transportation costs for keeping delivery/collection times the same. She had then mentioned that 80 percent of the $1.4 million in savings would be in labor expenses, but had no data to back up her statement.

Mayor Berger reminded everyone of the incident back in 2001 when all of Washington, D.C.'s mail was brought to Lima to be checked for anthrax. "Our community and our region served our nation. We deserve to be treated with respect in this process," he said. "We are not foolish, ignorant people. We can read reports, we can understand data, and there is no data. You haven't proven your case." No response was forthcoming from Falling Star following his remarks.

A representative from Congressman Jim Jordan's office spoke harshly to Falling Star, saying that "we came here expecting to be wowed by this presentation, and all we saw was a dud." Jordan is known to be in favor of any government entity that is striving to be more efficient, but his representative noted that more "homework" is necessary. Jordan's suggestion is for an outside party to do a separate study.

The same suggestion had been made by Ohio State Representative Matt Huffman, who said that if this was truly a business model that would save money and improve efficiency, that a third party would be helping to put the plan together. Falling Star said there is no third party involved.

Huffman stressed that it is businesses who drive the mail: through billing statements and advertising flyers, and told Falling Star "you're not going to be able to service this area," describing Lima as a regional hub for shopping.

Ohio State Senator Keith Faber stated that he serves counties that use three different processing centers: Lima, Dayton and Columbus. As a senator, business owner and lawyer, he has had the best experience with the Lima center. The southern most point of the 458 ZIP Code area is Fort Recovery, which is 133 miles from Toledo. He said that it would be impossible to keep a delivery schedule with an extra four hours in driving time.

Terry Grant, Ohio APWU (American Postal Workers Union) President, stressed to the crowd "this is not a done deal. You can save the Lima Processing Center." He has been to four public meetings in less than a year, including Zanesville and Mansfield, where consolidations have been stopped due to the communities getting involved. He encouraged all of those present to contact their elected officials.

Several people asked why the USPS isn't considering moving the Toledo processing center down to Lima, since Lima's performance record and efficiency ratings have been consistently higher. No response was given from Falling Star. The majority of those who asked questions seemed to walk away from the microphone shaking their heads in either confusion or in disbelief, due to the responses (or lack thereof) by Falling Star.

The USPS is also accepting public comments by mail until January 21, 2010. The mailing address is Manager Consumer Affairs, Cincinnati District, 1591 Dalton Street, Room 108, Cincinnati, OH 45234-9631. It was not mentioned when the USPS will make a formal decision on the matter.