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Pioneer Editorial: Signed, sealed ... delivered?

Though not the official motto of the United States Postal Service, the mantra of “neither snow nor rain nor heat. . .” has become synonymous with the dependability of the nation’s mail service.

Let’s hope we don’t have to add the caveat of “except for consolidation” to that oft-quoted phrase.

News came down last week that, indeed, the USPS Bemidji mail processing center will close next year as part of a national reorganization. USPS officials said that the Bemidji Post Office itself will be unaffected, and that there was no definite timeline for the processing center’s closure, only that it would be by fall of 2015, Pioneer staff writer Zach Kayser reported.

In all, 82 facilities nationwide will be consolidated. It was also unclear how many jobs this would impact in Bemidji, but a 2012 story about possible processing center closures pegged the number at six. What we do know is that once the center here closes, Bemidji’s local mail will be processed by the USPS facility in Minneapolis.

This isn’t just a Bemidji issue. Processing centers in Duluth, St. Cloud and Mankato also will merge with either the St. Paul or Minneapolis facilities.

The moves come amid news of the past several years, maybe longer, of financial instability at the Postal Service. You may recall news the USPS was even once thinking of switching to five-day service only, dropping Saturdays. While not an official government agency (as it once was), the USPS serves a vital role for the country and the economy, and as such, comes under a great deal of watch from the government, i.e, politicians.

This isn’t the first time, Bemidji and other centers have been on the chopping block. In 2012, the Bemidji processing center was included in the round of consolidations. But after heavy pressure from Washington, the USPS delayed the moves for further study.

That work is over, and the consolidations look to be going forward, although some politicians, including Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., say they intend again to put the pressure on the USPS to reconsider.

Here’s the rub. We routinely hear politicians, from both sides of the aisle, rail against wasteful government spending. We hear about how efficient and streamlined operations are in the private sector.

If after careful consideration, these moves are the best way to improve the finally strapped USPS, then the moves should go forward. Many people, possibly even millions, have gone “paperless” in society, shopping and paying their bills online, with hardly a need for anyone to ever send them a bill.

However, millions of others still depend on the daily mail service for items of great importance, including medication. Many of these people are seniors.

The Postal Service said delivery of first-class mail will only increase a fraction, from an average time of 2.14 to 2.25 days.

If the technology is there that by consolidating these centers, service will not be negatively impacted, and will improve the overall outlook for the USPS, the moves should be supported. But if the loss of these centers causes any harm, financial or physical, to people, then the USPS isn’t living up to its unofficial motto.