[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]
At Fifth and Walnut streets, a constant stream of visitors came through the Columbia Post Office’s doors during December. As they mailed holiday cards and packages, postal employees tried to prepare their customers for the postage rate increase set to take place Sunday.
“For the last month we’ve been telling customers buying a roll or large amount of stamps about the price increase,” said Ellen Froeschner, a postal sales and service representative for the Columbia office.
First-class stamps will increase to 39 cents from 37 cents on Jan. 8 — the first increase since June 2002. The U.S. Postal Service’s board of governors approved an across-the-board increase of approximately 5.4 percent on Nov. 14. Rates will increase accordingly for other products and services including postcards, post office boxes and priority mail.
The price increase is in response to a 2003 congressional mandate requiring the Postal Service to establish a $3.1 billion escrow account by Sept. 30. Congress will later determine how funds may be used by the Postal Service.
“(The Postal Service) was fortunate to go without raising rates in the past three years,” said Jim Quirk, a Postal Service spokesman based in Washington, D.C.
Because the extra revenue goes toward the escrow account, the service is considering an increase in 2007 to address rising operational costs.
No set proposal has been put forward, Quirk said.
“(The Postal Service) is facing rising costs and, because of inflation, it’s going to have to consider increasing prices,” Quirk said. “It’s part of business where, unfortunately, inflation catches up to you.”
The Postal Service is debt-free after paying off its last $1.8 billion in debt during fiscal 2005.
As the big day nears, Froeschner is still selling the 37-cent stamps individually and suggests that customers purchase books of the newer stamp.
“As the lines get longer, it’s good that the customer has the option and is not stuck with the one stamp,” Froeschner said.
As for the older stamps...
“Use them up,” Froeschner said. She advises customers to use them when multiple stamps are required on a large package or with smaller-denomination stamps to make up the price difference.
“I have about 50 37-cent stamps at home,” said Columbia resident Yvette Dills. She stopped by the post office Tuesday to pick up held mail and new 2-cent Navajo stamps to use with her old ones. She said it’s not an inconvenience.
“It’s something that has to happen periodically,” Dills said.
The Postal Service has operated since 1775 without assistance from taxpayer dollars. The independent federal agency has about 37,000 locations nationwide. It serves more than 7 million customers daily, except on Sunday. The organization delivers more than 206 billion pieces of mail per year.