NORFOLK, Neb. — It will be an uphill battle — but not necessarily an impossible one — to save the Norfolk Area Processing and Distribution Facility.
Customers made their case for preserving the mail sorting operation during two forums held Monday by the U.S. Postal Service, which says it can save $1.4 million a year and cut 46 jobs by moving work from Norfolk to Omaha.
The trade-off would be slower mail service. Now, it routinely takes one day for anything mailed first class. If the Norfolk facility is closed, there would be no more overnight delivery and 50 percent of first class mail would take three days to be delivered.
The Postal Service aims to shutter hundreds of post offices and sorting centers around the country to stem its tide of red ink. As many as 252 processing centers alone would be closed and 35,000 jobs cut under the plan to save $3 billion annually.
The name of the nationwide plans says it all — Radical Network Realignment.
That kind of radical change didn't sit well with those in attendance at the two forums at the Lifelong Learning Center on Monday.
Numerous business owners testified that any plan that worsens customer service will only serve to drive even more business away from the Postal Service.
For example, Chris Vincent, owner of Lloyd's Drug Mart in Norfolk, said his pharmacy's customers would suffer if there is a delay in receiving mailed prescriptions. Lloyd's mails 50 packages a day within 60 miles of Norfolk.
During the second forum, attended by about 125 people, Joel Jensen, president of the Norfolk local of the American Postal Workers, asked what could be done to stave off the closing.
"This is your opportunity to share concerns, comments and provide your feedback," Rick Pivovar, manager of the Postal Service's Central Plains District, said in response. "The study hasn't been finalized or approved."
But Pivovar did say that of the 100 studies done since 2006, just 17 were not approved, though he didn't know why.
Jensen said the Postal Service is getting lost in statistics.
"We're not statistics. We're people. We have families," he said, adding that there are unquantifiable costs to individuals with ties to the community who would have to move if the proposal advances.
During the forums, Pivovar presented results of a study supporting the case for closure of the Norfolk facility.
Preliminary analysis, he said, shows Omaha could absorb Norfolk's mail volume as well as that of Grand Island, which also is being studied for closure, and Lincoln, which definitely will close in January. Even then, the Omaha facility would have capacity to spare as long as more machines run longer hours, he added.
The study shows Norfolk would lose 46 jobs versus Omaha's gain of 12 jobs, he said. The annex building would still be a dropoff point for mail, which would be driven to Omaha, sorted there and then driven back to Norfolk for second- or third-day delivery. Thirty-three of the Norfolk workers could move to Omaha.
"It's a radical change," Pivovar acknowledged.
A decision on whether to whether to approve the Norfolk proposal is due by February or March, Pivovar said.
Customers who were asked for reaction during an afternoon meeting for businesses and a later meeting for the general public were clear they want to see the Norfolk facility continue to operate and provide overnight delivery.
Representatives from the Norfolk Daily News said the change would add at least one day of delivery time to those newspapers mailed to subscribers.
Les Mann, the newspaper's general manager, said the Daily News spends $900,000 annually with the Postal Service — revenue it would lose with a degraded service plan.
"We can't spend it with the Postal Service if you change the entry times or move the facility out of Norfolk," he said, adding that other options would be used to get newspapers out promptly.
Kent Warneke, editor of the News, urged a delay, saying that Congress is working on a solution to alleviate financial pressures in the form of Senate Bill 1789.
If passed into law, that would enable the closings to be off the table as the Postal Service develops a long-range financial plan that doesn't drive business away like the closing of the Norfolk facility would do, he said.
Jensen also pointed to congressional legislation on the front burner to improve the finances of the Postal Service as a reason reason to delay closings.
"If we move too quickly, we could end up closing what we really didn't have to," he said.