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Published: Wednesday, 6/26/2002

Post office to roll out higher rates this weekend

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Got any of those 1-cent stamps left over from the last postage increase? You're gonna need three of 'em this weekend.

With a jump to 37 cents for a first-class stamp on Sunday, the nearly 9 percent increase is the largest percentage boost since a 10 percent jump in 1995.

The cost of stamps last went up in January, 2001, when the price rose from 33 cents to 34 cents.

To accommodate the increase without disrupting service, postal officials are encouraging customers to avoid the rush by buying early. Both 3-cent stamps and stamps at the new 37-cent rate are now available.

“Traditionally, there's a crunch for the new stamps the day after new rates are implemented,” said Paul Harrington, spokesman for the Postal Service's area district. “It's like tax day or Christmas mailing season at post offices.”

The rising cost of stamps is one of many rate changes going into effect this weekend.

Overall average rates are increasing 7.9 percent for first class mail, 13.5 percent for priority mail, 9.4 percent for express mail, and 10 percent for periodicals, according to the Postal Service.

The Postal Service desperately needs more revenue, Mr. Harrington said, because of spending millions on anthrax precautions.

Other factors hurting the Postal Service are rising gas prices and reduced mail volume.

The Postal Service handled 6 billion fewer pieces of mail in 2001 than the previous year.

“We need the money,” said Craig Cummings, a spokesman for the Postal Service in Toledo.

The Postal Rate Commission, a government agency, recommended new rates in March based on an unprecedented agreement between the Postal Service and major mailing groups.

The commission bypassed its usual hearings in the wake of Sept. 11 and anthrax scares. Bulk mailers and unions that usually object to postal rate increases agreed to the most recent rate adjustments.

But some say raising rates is the wrong approach. Rick Merritt, executive director of the watchdog group PostalWatch, said the Postal Service is ignoring basic economic principles.

“The more they raise rates, the less volume they're going to have,” he said. “The problem is they don't know how to cut costs, or they don't want to.”

The Postal Service is reducing expenses by using more efficient technology and eliminating jobs, postal officials said.

Many post offices are not filling positions after employees retire.

“There are a lot of jobs they're cutting locally,” Mr. Cummings said.

Rate increases will bring the Postal Service $1.5 billion in new revenue this year. The agency pledged not to raise rates again until 2004.

Not all the upcoming rate adjustments will cost customers more.

The price for the Priority Mail flat-rate envelope will drop from $3.95 to $3.85 and the cost for the Express Mail flat-rate envelope will decrease from $16.25 to $13.65.

Although most postal rates are increasing, customers say they will keep sending letters and parcels.

“There's no way of getting around mailing,” said John Jackson of South Toledo, as he mailed a letter downtown yesterday. “We have to use mail, and I think the post office knows that.”



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