Adapting to new postal realities

Living in a county divided into two area codes for phone service (785 and 620) is confusing enough. Having our county split up among three different postal sectional centers (668xx, 670xx and 674xx) has proved very problematic. Papers we dutifully mail each Wednesday sometimes don’t arrive until Saturday or later.

Now, thanks to hard work by circulation manager Jean Stuchlik and excellent cooperation from local postmasters, we’re finally able to offer some hope.

In recent months, because of increasing centralization of postal operations, a newspaper mailed from Marion to Tampa went first to Topeka, then to Kansas City, then to Wichita, then to Salina, then to Ramona and finally to Tampa. Instead of going 20 miles directly from Marion to Tampa, it took a leisurely 508-mile journey that frequently included a few overnight stops.

Several months back we began trying to accommodate readers by mailing each of our three newspapers in three different post offices. For readers of any of our papers, if they lived in Marion, Hillsboro or Peabody, regardless of which paper they were receiving, it was mailed at their home post office and stayed there until it was delivered. This eliminated delays getting the Marion County Record in Hillsboro and the Hillsboro Star-Journal in Marion. It wasn’t until this week, and only thanks to intervention by local postal officials, that we were able to expand this to include other post offices in the county.

Now, regardless of which newspaper is involved, all newspapers destined for a 670xx, 671xx, 672xx, or 674xx ZIP code are being mailed in Hillsboro, and all newspapers destined for 668xx are being mailed in either Marion or Peabody with special tags on them, preventing them from having to go through the Kansas City sorting center, which seems to have been the source of most delays. They still may go to Emporia and back for 668xx papers outside of Marion and Peabody or to Wichita and/or Salina and back for papers in the 670xx, 671xx, 672xx, and 674xx ZIP codes, but they have cut several hundred miles and hopefully several days off their delivery time.

The system for separating all the papers into appropriate bundles — the postal service requires, for example, that we know the exact order in which each letter carrier walks or drives his or her route — is mindboggling and requires us to use an expensive computer system and access a costly proprietary Internet-based address verification system. However, absent human or machine screw-ups, there should no longer be any reason why papers mailed on Wednesday to Marion County addresses aren’t in your mail promptly each Thursday.

Avoiding Kansas City appears to be the most important thing we can do. There, papers are allowed to sit while apparent preference is given to routing junk mail from large nationwide customers. Copies of the Record bound for Lost Springs, normally a reliable destination because it is within 668xx, this past week ended up vacationing there for a few days because a label postal workers usually put on each bundle was accidentally forgotten. Unless a similar mix-up happens in the future, mail bound for Tampa, Ramona and Durham will be likely to get the same expedited treatment Lost Springs mail normally receives.

We cannot overemphasize how much local postal officials helped with our new plan, which regional officials had initially turned down when we proposed it more than a year ago. It may not be perfect yet, but everyone involved is trying their best to make sure your newspapers are delivered as quickly as possible. If we have to, we’ll make a 150-mile drive each week to deliver every paper directly to its destination post office so only local postal officials ever have to touch it. Currently, only junk mailers are allowed to do that without special permission, but if necessary, we believe we can obtain such permission. However, it would probably have to come with increased subscription costs, as we receive very little savings from the postal service for directly delivering mail to local post offices.

Meanwhile, if you live within Marion County, please let us know whether you notice any improvement in your mail service. We and your local postal officials are going the extra mile — literally and figuratively — to try to get you your papers on time.

— ERIC MEYER

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