COLUMBIA — With the April 17 deadline for input fast approaching, Regional Economic Development Inc. board members have decided to weigh in regarding proposed staff reduction at the Columbia's mail processing center.
At their Wednesday meeting, board members representing local business and government interests as well as those of MU, Hallsville and Centralia voted unanimously to perform a study examining the economic impact of downsizing and eventually closing the center. The board will submit its findings with a formal statement.
Vicki Russell, REDI board of directors chairwoman from the Tribune Publishing Co., said she felt the issue of consolidating the center was being rushed.
"This is being presented in compressed time," Russell said.
In March, the U.S. Postal Service identified the Columbia's mail processing center as a candidate for consolidation, a move that would reduce its staff of 133 by 42, according to a feasibility study conducted by the postal service.
The service announced an April 2 public meeting little more than two weeks in advance and will accept further public input through April 17, capping community discussion at roughly 4 1/2 weeks from start to finish.
REDI Executive Vice President Bernie Andrews outlined the takeaway should the postal service proceed with consolidation.
"I think the bottom line is we’re going to lose 42 jobs, and we’ll go to two-to three-day (mailing) service," Andrews said.
As a result of decreased local capacity, mail from Columbia and neighboring cities would be sent primarily to St. Louis for processing. The delivery timeline for first-class mail would extend accordingly, from next-day to two to three days — or longer.
Hallsville Mayor and ex officio board member Cheri Reisch read a letter from Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren in which Noren said she received more than 600 absentee ballots on the Monday before and Tuesday of November's general election. That's 600 votes that wouldn't have been counted given a longer delivery time, Noren wrote.
Centralia City Administrator and REDI board member Lynn Behrns pointed to utility billing as another service that could be affected by the cuts, a thought Russell expounded upon by voicing concern for those who pay bills by postal money order.
Several members of the board acknowledged, however, that a study and a statement on their behalf would not be enough to save the processing center.
"It will require action from the government and private enterprise on down," Russell said.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.