FAYETTEVILLE — Northwest Arkansas’ congressman on Friday blasted a U.S. Postal Service proposal that would shut down Fayetteville’s Processing and Distribution Facility and move the work to Little Rock.
University, business and city officials worried Friday the changes, which threaten to lengthen the time it takes for mail to be delivered, will cause challenges for their operations.
More than 250 processing facilities nationally face closing as the service struggles with plummeting mail volume and fi nancial losses.
About 90 people work at the facility on South City Lake Road, said Jeremy Coffey, Fayetteville postmaster.
Coffey said the Postal Service is only considering a consolidation that would move the work to the state’s largest center in Little Rock. No final determination will be made until 2012, he said.
“As a company, we’re forced to make a lot of decisions that we may not want to make but we have to make to ensure that the Post Oftce is here for the future,” he said.
The announcement sparked a rebuke from 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who called the study a “trial balloon” that proposes an unacceptable course of action.
“The USPS not only has a funding problem, it has a management problem,” Womack said in a statement. “And the answer is not to continue to seek relief at the expense of workers, patrons and service.”
If the facility closes, area customers could face delays in delivery time. Coffey said first-class mail, which typically takes one to three days to deliver, would take between two and four days.
The facility processes mail sent and received across Northwest Arkansas, including all ZIP codes beginning in 727 or 726, Coffey said.
Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, said Friday he hated to see any reduction in the work force, but he also underscored the importance of doing whatever it takes to keep the Postal Service afloat.
“We don’t want to lose a job — not a single one,” Clark said. “But we can’t put our head in the sand and ignore the reality of the situation.”
Thursday’s announcement comes less than six months after the service announced it would move some of its mail processing operations in Harrison and Fort Smith to Fayetteville.
Leisa Tolliver-Gay, a Postal Service spokeswoman, said no machinery, mail or employees had been moved as of Friday.
A series of public meetings will be held to discuss consolidation with Little Rock, a move that is also being considered for facilities in Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Harrison. No dates have been set.
If all three facilities closed, the Little Rock center would be the only processing center left in the state.
“At a time when customers expect almost instant information, the Post Office is proposing delaying first-class mail by a day, which seems to be 10 steps backward,” said Doug Norwood, who manages all incoming and outgoing mail at the University of Arkansas.
Norwood said university departments received about 250,000 fewer pieces of mail in 2011 than the year before — a 12 percent reduction.
Kathy Ferguson, owner of MailCo, a Fayetteville company that processes daily mail and sends direct mail for hundreds of area businesses, said she was surprised Thursday’s announcement came so quickly on the heels of a decision to consolidate some operations from Harrison and Fort Smith in Fayetteville.
“If it helps them increase efficiency, then we’re all for it,” Ferguson said. “But with all the large companies — all the national, huge Fortune 500 companies that we have in Northwest Arkansas — you would think that they would want to increase production here and not eliminate it.”
Paul Becker, who oversees the city’s billing department as Fayetteville’s finance director, said even a day or two delay in delivery could prompt staff to look at giving water and trash customers more time to respond to their bills.
Customers can pay bills by phone, but the city is also exploring the possibility of adding electronic statements.
“It’s a high priority right now,” Becker said.
An Arkansas representative of the American Postal Workers Union did not return a message left Friday.