U.S. Postal Service officials think consolidating the Dodge City and Wichita mail processing centers in Wichita will save about $1.22 million a year.

     U.S. Postal Service officials think consolidating the Dodge City and Wichita mail processing centers in Wichita will save about $1.22 million a year.
     But Dodge City residents said Tuesday that merging the two operations, along with other steps designed to cut costs, would drive customers away.
     Local business owner Gary Stein criticized the Postal Service's proposal to change the standard for delivering first-class mail from overnight to two or three days. He said increasing delivery time for first-class mail would hurt the agency because customers would seek the same service elsewhere.
     "I think it's going to cut the profit," he said. "They're going to go somewhere else to get the better service."
     The Postal Service hosted a town hall meeting at the Dodge City Public Library to see how people felt about a proposal to merge the Dodge and Wichita mail processing centers. The proposal is part of the agency's nationwide effort to streamline operations and cut costs.
     Denise Gibson, a 31-year veteran of the Dodge City post office, criticized Postal Service officials for seeking a one-size-fits-all solution to their problem.
     "We were not having a problem in southwest Kansas," she said. "Just because you’re doing it nationwide doesn't mean you have to do it in every community."

Saving money
     The Postal Service is looking at ways to save money in hopes of eliminating a massive budget shortfall — and that could mean consolidating the Dodge City and Wichita post offices.
     A shaky national economy and the rise of email have created a financial headache for the Postal Service, which is regulated by the federal government but is not subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Instead, service relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.
     But email has replaced traditional mail for many people, depriving the Postal Service of its main source of revenue.
     The volume of first-class mail dropped from 93 billion pieces in 2006 to 78 billion last year and is expected to keep falling, said Rick Pivovar, general manager of the Central Plains District for the Postal Service. He noted that standard mail has also fallen, from 103 billion pieces in 2006 to 83 billion in 2010.
     As a result, the Postal Service has lost $19.1 billion over the past two years, Pivovar said.
     "If we were a normal business, we would have already filed for bankruptcy," he said.
     As a result, the Postal Service is looking at ways to stay afloat — including combining mail processing centers.
     The agency already cut its network from 673 centers in 2006 to 487 last year and needs to shrink it to 200 by 2020, Pivovar said. So the agency is looking at the pros and cons of consolidating centers across the country, including Dodge City and Wichita.
     Pivovar estimated that combining the Dodge and Wichita operations would save the Postal Service $1.22 million a year but cost 13 Dodge employees their jobs.
     He noted that the Wichita center would have to add six employees to handle the extra workload, resulting in a net loss of seven jobs in Dodge.

      Some people said they doubted that email was the only reason for the Postal Service's financial woes.
     Greg Martinez, president of Local 194 of the American Postal Workers Union, said the real problem was a 2006 law that requires the agency to prepay 75 years of health coverage for future retirees.
     "Congress created this mess, and only Congress can fix this mess," he said.
      Dodge City resident Johnny Dunlap II said he thought the Postal Service was taking the wrong approach to fixing its problems.
     "What you're telling us is that because of email and because of instant electronic communication, regular mail cannot compete. And so therefore, we're not going to try," he said. "You're taking a product that's really good right now, and it's not selling. So your solution to a not-selling product is to make it worse. That makes no sense."

     Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or email him at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.