More staff wouldn’t have solved postal delays
A letter mailed in North San Juan should arrive in Grass Valley the next day.
Recently, however, 215 absentee ballots, including 10 ballots mailed as early as Feb. 28, arrived at the Nevada County Elections Office after March 5 – too late to be counted in the primary election.
U.S. Postal Service officials have blamed most of the delays on two machines that broke down in early March at the Marysville Processing and Distribution Center, where most of western Nevada County’s mail is processed.
On March 1, a machine that puts orange fluorescent triage bar codes on the back of envelopes and cancels stamps broke down, postal officials said.
Technicians found a hairline crack on an inkwell and a filter on the cancellation machine. This type of problem happens perhaps once every four years, Lloyd Hughes, maintenance manager at the Marysville facility, said recently.
The delay caused a backlog of an estimated 78,000 pieces of mail, Hughes said. Some of that mail had to be rerouted through the processing and distribution center in West Sacramento.
Then on March 4, a bearing on a machine that sorts letters for distribution broke down, causing more delays, officials said.
Postal Service spokesman Dan De Miglio said 95 percent of the mail is supposed to arrive the following day. Ballots mailed March 4, he said, stood a 5 percent chance of arriving the second day.
Could the problems Marysville experienced in early March recur?
The breakdowns, spokeswoman Susie Glover said, were an anomaly.
“More staff wouldn’t have helped in this situation,” she said.
Yet Hughes, maintenance manager at the Marysville center, where up to 180,000 pieces of mail are processed daily, would prefer to have five people instead of the two who currently work the cancellation machine that broke down March 2.
Neither he nor Glover believe more employees will be hired any time soon. The agency’s budget will be cut by 6 percent this year, Glover said, and labor represents 80 percent of all expenses.
The Marysville center’s $11.5 million budget is expected to be trimmed by close to $658,000 this year, officials said.
The center currently employs 162 people – two more than in 1997 – a year before the facility moved from downtown Marysville to the city’s outskirts near the Yuba County Airport, Postal Service figures show.
De Miglio does not know what will be cut. Jobs at the Postal Service are reduced through attrition, he stressed.
Glover said the service has an aging work force.
“Sixty percent of the work force is eligible to retire within the next two years (at age 55),” she said.
The service, which operates 38,000 post offices, branches and stations as well as 350 mail processing and distribution centers, has faced increasing financial difficulties since 1995, according to a recent report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of Congress.
The agency, which employs 900,000 people, will raise its first-class mail rates this summer.
The Postal Service reported an annual deficit of $1.68 billion in September, the GAO report said. Even before Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax incidents, the service projected a $1.35 billion deficit for this fiscal year.
The Marysville center also processes mail from Yuba, Plumas, Sutter, Butte and Colusa counties. Chicago Park’s mail goes to West Sacramento. On weekends, mail is canceled in West Sacramento.
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