March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Council, Bernero voice opposition to a U.S. Postal Service proposal to close its Collins Road processing facility; Council meeting proposal moves to committee

Monday, Nov. 14 — A multi-billion dollar deficit faced by the U.S. Postal Service could have negative implications for local residents, businesses and agencies that depend on timely mail deliveries and local jobs, the Bernero administration announced tonight.

The administration and the City Council agree that the U.S. Postal Service ought to keep a USPS processing facility open in southeast Lansing, one that the federal agency is considering closing to cut costs.

In a resolution unanimously approved at tonight’s meeting, the Council “strongly opposes the proposed closure of the USPS Lansing Processing and Distribution Center and moving the Lansing region’s mail processing services to Grand Rapids.”

The USPS is considering closing its processing facility in southeast Lansing on Collins road and consolidating with a Grand Rapids facility in order to save money.

Mayor Bernero is also voicing “strong opposition” to the proposal under consideration by the Postal Service. In a letter to the Greater Michigan District of the Postal Service, Bernero says the proposed consolidation “would cause the loss and displacement of nearly 200 Lansing-area USPS employees. ... In addition, the proposed closure would severely impact the provision of effective and efficient postal services to residents and businesses throughout the greater Lansing area.”

Bernero writes that the center, 4800 Collins Road near U.S. 127 and Jolly Road, processes three million to five million pieces of mail on a daily basis. He also says first-class mail deliveries would be delayed by “as much as three days, where currently it is processed overnight.”

Further, the resolution and letter urge Congress members to find a way to restructure USPS finances so that facilities wouldn’t have to be shut down. “Quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with USPS finances that cannot be fixed by timely and effective intervention by Congress to restructure certain financial obligations that are not required of any other federal agency,” Bernero writes.

Reuters reported Friday that the Postal Service lost about $20 billion in the four years leading up to 2011. Congress extended a $5.5 billion payment due by the agency to pre-fund health care benefits until Friday, while several lawmakers and the Obama administration have come up with differing ideas on how to make the agency solvent, the news agency reported.

The Council unanimously approved the resolution against closing the Postal Service’s Lansing facility. Council members Eric Hewitt and Tina Houghton were absent.

In other business, a proposal by City Clerk Chris Swope to reduce the number of yearly Council meetings in half will soon be taken up by the Committee of the Whole. A nearly identical proposal died in committee in August because it did not have Council support to move forward. The Council’s General Services committee — comprised of Council members Derrick Quinney, Carol Wood and Eric Hewitt — voted it down unanimously.

Swope is proposing the idea again because it will “significantly save money from its budget in security, utility, and payroll expenses in staff time and resources,” he wrote in a letter to Council members last week. Swope also said “I have been able to find no other city in the State of Michigan that meets 50 times per year.”

The proposal faces a round of approvals from the Council and Lansing voters in order to happen. It creates ballot language that would ultimately have to be approved by city voters, based on rules for amending the City Charter. If at least five Council members approve of ballot language, Lansing residents would vote on the idea in the Feb. 28 Republican presidential primary election, according to the resolution.  

At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar said that the Council would still meet every Monday if the proposal was adopted. However, instead of every Monday being a formal Council meeting, the full Council would meet as Committee of the Whole every other week.

“The work is still going to be done,” she said, adding that Monday’s Council meeting — where the only business on the agenda was two public hearings — was a good example of the needed change. “There was nothing on this agenda except public hearings that could have been held on another night. Eliminating the number of 50 meetings doesn’t mean we won’t be here.”

Council members Wood, Hewitt and Quinney voted against the previous proposal in an August committee meeting. However, Quinney said at the time that he was voting along with Wood and Hewitt because they weren’t willing to budge on the proposal. But he says he’s not against the idea.

“I’ve said all along that I would support looking at not being accountable for 50-plus meetings a year,” he said after tonight’s Council meeting. “When it was (first) raised it was obvious it wasn’t going to be discussed.”

At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries said he has “no firm position” on the proposal, but that “based on my experience on Council, the work is there (to meet weekly).” He added that he has “serious questions” about the Council being able to fulfill its business with fewer formal Council meetings.