Archived Story

Rotary hears new postmaster

Published 9:03pm Thursday, January 19, 2012

Technology is a mixed blessing for the automated U.S. Postal Service.
On the one hand, fewer people write letters; 45 percent receive statements and pay bills electronically rather than relying on traditional mailed hard copies.

Leah Sovine became Dowagiac postmaster in September

But there is a smart phone app for managing delivery. Another app converts phone pictures to post cards, “merging that old way of writing letters with the new digital age,” Dowagiac Postmaster Leah Sovine told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889. She became postmaster in September.
With first-class mail volume down 26 percent, the Postal Service is introducing new products. For businesses, every door direct mail. The customer goes online, enters the business address and matches routes with targeted advertising for 14 cents.
Stamps increase this weekend a penny from 44 cents for the first time in 2 1/2 years. Hallmark cards can be purchased with postage paid.
Self-adhesive envelopes are joining peel stamps. No more licking.
“When I started at the post office, J.C. Penney catalogs came in on pallets. Mountains of them,” Sovine said. “Spring, fall, Christmas, but they don’t mail them anymore. But we had a good season with a 2-percent revenue increase of about $118 million because we do a ton of packages. That’s where the internet is a boon to us. I love Amazon.com when it’s snowy and Walmart is kind of far away.”
While the postal service, Fed Ex and UPS compete, Sovine said, “We do have agreements because the post office delivers to every home in the United States. They bring pallets of parcels mostly for the rural community and we do ‘last-mile delivery.’ In exchange, they allow us to fly mail on their planes because we don’t have planes.”
Even today, the postal service delivers mail at the Grand Canyon by mule and to Alaska by float planes. “The post office is adjusting and changing, but I don’t see it going completely away,” she said. “We have 27 employees and it’s very challenging on (snowy) days like today. Keep those boxes shoveled out.”
Rural routes encompass about 50 miles and 600 addresses. City letter carriers walk 10 to 12 miles daily to reach 500 addresses. Being done by 5 p.m. is her goal. The day starts with arrival of the first truck at 3 a.m.
“We deliver to 7,000+ addresses in Dowagiac every day” including Sunday with express mail.
The closest processing plant is Kalamazoo. Its elimination would mean the end of next-day delivery because mail would be sorted from Grand Rapids.
“We’re self-funded. No taxes go toward the post office. We’re mandated by Congress to not have a profit,” Sovine said. Previous surpluses were applied to pre-funding retiree health benefits. I’d rather have five-day delivery than go out of business. There’s also been talk of every-other-day delivery — Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Tuesday, Thursday Saturday for the other routes. I think five-day delivery is coming, but I don’t know when.”

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