City out of sorts over postal cut

Published May 1, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - It's official: St. Petersburg's mail is headed to Tampa.

Whether it's a letter to a friend across town or to Grandma in Ohio, first-class mail will go straight to Tampa, the Postal Service announced this week after a yearlong study.

The service will merge St. Petersburg mail-sorting operations with Tampa's, eliminating 19 jobs and saving about $4.6-million annually, said Gary Sawtelle, a spokesman for the Postal Service's Suncoast District.

The change was sparked by a nationwide trend of declining mail.

"Customers should not notice any difference at all, " Sawtelle said.

Still unclear is whether St. Petersburg mail will retain its postmark.

Sawtelle said the agency is "working on a proposal" to include St. Petersburg on the postmark in Tampa.

In addition, a special collection box will be provided at the main post office on First Avenue N near 34th Street for people wanting a city postmark.

On Thursday, postal officials will discuss the changes with Mayor Rick Baker, who remains insistent that the city can keep its postmark. U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, however, admitted he is disappointed.

Sawtelle said 19 employees at the mail processing center at the main post office will be reassigned.

Mike Sullivan, president of the local American Postal Workers Union, said the Postal Service should provide more details about its anticipated savings. "Where are they getting their figures?" he asked.

Last year when the proposal became known, many residents balked at the idea of losing the city's postmark. About 180 people attended a community meeting to complain.

"I think it's better to keep our seal on the letters, " said James Brown, 44, of St. Petersburg as he dropped off some letters at the open air station downtown Monday. "It's big enough to warrant it."

But as William Cowherd, 42, of St. Petersburg dropped off mail Monday, he said: "All I care about is that my mail gets to where it's going."

If history is a predictor, the city could face an uphill battle to keep a postmark. Of all the cities in the postal service's Suncoast District, from Brooksville to the Everglades, only five postmarks currently exist: Tampa, St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Fort Myers and Manasota, a hybrid created to placate Manatee County residents whose mail is processed in Sarasota.

"St. Petersburg is one of the significant cities in the country, " Baker said. "We will object to the loss of our postmark."

Melanie Ave can be reached 727 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.