Jennifer Wade walks out of the College Station post office near
the University of Arizona campus. Photo by Samantha Neville
By Samantha Neville

A 40-year-old Tucson post office, mail processing and distribution center, is one of the 140 across the nation that will not be in service by next February, a money-saving decision causing community concern.

The Cherrybell Stravenue processing and distribution center serves 1.5 million people,  said Richard Fimbres, a Tucson City Council member. The center is in his council ward. 

The center handles three million pieces of mail per day, according to Robert Soler, customer relations coordinator for the Arizona District for USPS, and now all of that mail will go to Phoenix to be processed before being sent to its destination. The consolidation of this will affect more than 100 jobs in Tucson, Soler said, The consolidation of USPS is necessary because mail volume decreased by 25 percent in the past six years, he said. 

The nationwide trend of consolidation will reduce the U.S. Postal Service’s annual costs by $1.2 billion a year. The consolidation of the Tucson branch alone will save the Postal Service $14 million each year, Soler said.

“To your average customer, the change will be transparent," Soler said. "They won’t see a difference at all.” 

His reason is that all of the "customer facing" parts of the post office will not be closed. Others contend that there will in fact be an affect on the average customer.

One person that did not have the same opinion was Fimbres.

"There's other methods that they can consolidate," Fimbres said. 

Fimbres said that instead of being in service six days a week, the postal service could be in service five days a week, or they could raise postage rates. 

Fimbres also pointed out that once the consolidation process is finished, Arizona will have fewer mail processing centers than states with smaller populations such as Wisconsin or Iowa. 

Cherrybell is the 15th largest processing center in the U.S. Postal Service system, of more than 480, he said. 

USPS area manager of human resources for Washington D.C. said that the Postal Service considered distance, transportation, volume of mail, and the type of equipment available to process the mail when deciding which mail processing centers to close. Fimbres said that there would be several impacts if the processing center is closed. 

"Arizona's considered a retirement community," Fimbres said. "There are lots of seniors in our community and they're not computer savvy. They still want to get their mail in their mailbox, they still want to read their newspaper, the hardcopy, and the other thing is a lot of them are on prescription drugs by mail."

Geraldine Perez, a local mail carrier, said that the service the post office provides is vital.

"People rely on us daily, waiting for their checks or their medicine, birthday cards." This consolidation is going to slow down mail-in voter ballots, Fimbres said. 

"That's going to deter folks (from voting)," he said. Non-profit organizations will lose their postage discounts. For one non-profit, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, mailing costs will go up 40 percent because of the loss of their mailing discount, said Jessica Castillo, marketing/direct mail specialist for the Community Food Bank. She said that the organization depends on direct mail for 28 percent of its revenue, or $2.5 million. 

It will be more difficult, Fimbres said, to get people to come to Tucson and spend money in small businesses if there is no mail processing and distribution center. 

Students at the University of Arizona with family living in different states are also affected by the consolidation. "I'm from Oregon, so it would take longer for simple things to get back home." Lisha Smith, a student at the U of A said. "(It would take longer) to give cards and whatever I need to, to my parents." 

The main problem people see with the consolidation is the delay that it will cause in mail arrival. Soler, however, does not see this as a problem. "Transporting mail over long distances doesn't slow it," Soler said.

He said that the speed of the machines that process the mail determines how long it takes for mail to arrive, and that the available equipment are capable of processing the mail at a fast enough rate to not slow the arrival of mail.

Fimbres, however, said he thinks that the post office can't assure delivery at the same rate partially because of the 150-mile journey the mail must make before being processed. 

He said that a whole number of things could delay the mail as it travels to Phoenix and back, such as technical problems with the vehicle, dust storms, and traffic. 

The community demonstrated its overwhelming opposition to the decision when 600 people showed up to a public hearing at the end of last year, according to Fimbres.

"There are a couple bills, one in the Senate and one in the House that they're working on, Fimbres said. “We've also created an email petition, online petition and we've got over 1,200 folks and small businesses to respond to the governing board of the Postal Service." Fimbres also mentioned that Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez is filing a complaint with the Department of Justice as well. Soler, on the other hand, said that the consolidation might be a positive change for the post office, because they won't need to use as many trucks and the facilities won’t have to operate all night. 

“The postal service is making the changes we proposed in order to preserve the service for our customers long term,” Soler said. 


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