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Could city of St. Petersburg lose its mark to Tampa?

Post office officials propose a $1.3-million cost-saving measure that would route mail through Tampa.

Published June 14, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - A Postal Service plan to consolidate services to Tampa would eliminate St. Petersburg's postmark on first-class mail.

Postal officials say it would make them more efficient.

Too efficient, some say.

Mayor Rick Baker, for one, is not pleased that his city may lose its postmark and some of its postal operations to Tampa.

Postal officials said their plan to route all of the city's first-class stamped mail to Tampa for postmarking would save about $1.3-million a year and is an appropriate response to a nationwide trend of declining mail.

"We are always looking for ways to be more efficient,'' said Michael Jordan, the Suncoast district manager of customer service and sales.

The move to consolidate operations won't affect delivery times, he said.

That's not the point, Baker says.

His suggestion: move the postmarking operations at Tampa's larger processing facility to St. Petersburg instead.

The mayor is urging the postal service to make no decision until he has reviewed an internal study on the proposal.

"Often somebody makes a decision to do something and then they do a study to confirm that decision," Baker said Wednesday. "I'm suspicious that may be the case here."

Baker requested a copy of the study last week, but hasn't received one yet. Postal officials said Wednesday they may hand over a summary, but the study will be kept private. A public meeting about the proposal is set for 7 tonight at the St. Petersburg Main Library, 3745 Ninth Ave. N.

Baker said he plans to ask postal officials "what the rationale for their decision is."

Jordan noted Wednesday that Clearwater lost its postmark two decades ago when its mail began being routed to St. Petersburg for processing in a similar effort to consolidate operations.

"This is something the Postal Service has been doing for years," he said.

In the past eight years, the use of fax, e-mail and online bill paying has resulted in 11-billion fewer pieces of first-class stamped mail being sent out annually, postal officials said. This year, for the first time, the Postal Service delivered more bulk business mail than first-class stamped mail, they said.

The St. Petersburg processing center at 3135 First Ave. N handles mail sent out by its residents and others in ZIP codes starting with 337; areas that include Clearwater, Largo and Pinellas Park.

Under the proposal, an average of 250,000 pieces of mail, out of 1.8-million processed daily, would be sent to Tampa for postmarking. (The rest of the mail is bulk mail generated.)

It means that if a stamped letter is being mailed from one St. Petersburg resident to another, it would make a round trip by truck to Tampa first. Customers could request a St. Petersburg postmark on special items.

Postal officials said removing the machine that postmarks first-class mail from the St. Petersburg facility saves money and time by cutting 19 jobs and creating a shorter trip for mail coming from Clearwater.

"We'd be negligent if we didn't look to the future," Jordan said. "With the declining volumes of mail, the larger our operations, the more efficient we can be."

The Postal Service might even eventually consider changing the Tampa postmark to a "more generic" postmark like "Greater Tampa Bay, Florida," Jordan said.

[Last modified June 14, 2006, 05:15:40]

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