WALLA WALLA — Pickups will come earlier at the U.S. Postal Service’s freestanding blue boxes.
Starting later this month, carriers will begin emptying the boxes at 4:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The roughly hour difference will allow postal trucks to get on the road sooner to deliver the mail to Spokane, where sorting and processing is ultimately moving away from Pasco, Postal officials said.
The change locally begins April 27. The outside and inside drop boxes at the Post Office on Second Avenue and Sumach Street will also have a final pickup of 4:15 p.m.
Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson said Tuesday the changes all coincide with the agency’s plans to consolidate its Pasco mail handling facility with Spokane’s.
In preparation, Swanson suggests those with time sensitive materials to be aware of the bump in the collection time.
Declining mail volume has led to what the Postal Service has characterized as a “financial crisis.” In response the agency has rethought how it delivers service, including reducing operating hours at rural post offices and the proposal last year of a major consolidation plan.
The center in Pasco, where mail from the Walla Walla Valley is processed and distributed, is one piece of that, Swanson said. Though proposed last year, the consolidation had been postponed until 2014. But the agency has since announced the changeover will take place by the end of this year, after all.
“When you’re losing $25 million a day, as we are nationwide, the sooner we can make changes, the sooner we can realize the savings,” Swanson said.
Swanson said the changeover will be done in phases. However, a timeline has not yet been finalized.
Service in Walla Walla is expected to be affected to the extent that pickup will need to take place earlier in the day and processing could be extended with the longer distance to Spokane.
“I think — initially, at least — we should be able to maintain what we call our service standards, which is what they are today,” Swanson said. “As the consolidation is phased in, it could add a day to the service.”
The long-range plan would create one main processing hub in Eastern Washington and another in Western Washington.
“We continue to lose mail volume as people’s mailing habits change, relying more on emails and paying bills online and sending greeting cards online,” Swanson explained. “Our facilities are under-utilized and it makes sense to us to centralize. We just can’t continue the way we have been.”
The changeover may require some adjustment for businesses that rely on mail services. McDonald Zaring Insurance downtown has already reviewed its procedures and is making plans to adjust times, said employee Celia Martin. She said the overall effect should be minor but does require some reconfiguring and could affect other businesses that use the service.
According to news reports, the changeover with the Pasco facility is expected to save about $800,000. It will also affect 47 jobs.
Swanson said a number of employees — he didn’t have a specific figure — have taken advantage of retirement opportunities or looked for other positions since the Postal Service announced its plans last year.
“We make every effort to help employees that would be impacted to find other opportunities,” he said. “We definitely don’t want to lay off people. In the past we’ve been pretty successful.” He said other positions may be available for employees willing to relocate, face a schedule change or take a different position. “We’re trying to ensure that people do have a job,” he said.
The change in Pasco is not expected to affect Walla Walla postal employment, he said.