Closing of Tucson’s Main Postal Center Is Put on Hold

Tucson’s Cherrybell postal processing center has narrowly avoided closing — for now.

The partial closing of Cherrybell, the main center where Tucson’s mail is processed, is part of a 2011 plan by the United States Postal Service to tighten its operations as a result of changed mail demands. According to the postal service, though fewer letters are being sent, more packages are being mailed and the system must adapt.

With the Postal Service facing annual losses of more than $5 billion, Cherrybell was one of 82 postal facilities nationwide slated to close in July. That would have moved the processing of packages and letters coming to and from Tucson to the Phoenix facility — even mail sent across town.

Cherrybell consolidation has been postponed until 2016. The status of the facilities slated for closing was changed to “to be determined,” according to an announcement by the Postal Service this week.

The delay “was based upon operational considerations,” a recent statement by the service said.

The Postal Service has already begun making changes to its operations. Since 2013, all mail coming from Tucson has been sent to Phoenix for processing, even if it was being sent to another Tucson address.

“I feel that the Postal Service is causing much of its own financial problems by some of its poor management tactics, such as closing so many sorting facilities, leaving us, their past customers, no choice but to shift our business to their competitors,” said Barbara Taylor, who owns an art gallery, Exquisite Designs Originals, in Bisbee.

Even with the processing center open, Bisbee has already seen delays resulting from the Postal Service’s decision to start rerouting mail to Phoenix, she said. The worst case she experienced was when she sent checks to her vendors in the same city and they took two weeks to arrive.

The changes in service have negatively affected many artists in the area who live from paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to wait the extra time to be paid.

“So far it’s gotten better,” Ms. Taylor said, referring to the delay. “But it’s still not as good as it used to be.”

If the Cherrybell facility closes, the only postal functions that would be left in Tucson are post office boxes and retail services like UPS. The Postal Service said the Cherrybell facility will remain open as a post office, a mail transportation hub and a site for bulk mail.

Although local members of Congress have warned that 250 jobs are at stake, the Postal Service said all employees would be transferred to other positions.

Over the past three years, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat who represents Tucson, has been working with community members and business leaders to prevent the shutting down of the Cherrybell post office. He introduced legislation that would ensure that ZIP codes with high population growth, like Tucson, would not be subject to post office closings. The bill (HR 4161), introduced in 2012, did not make it out of committee.

Closing the Cherrybell distribution center would leave Arizona with just one distribution center, in Phoenix. That is something that Tucson Vice Mayor Richard Fimbres finds baffling, particularly when other states, ones that he said are not as big and are not growing as fast as Arizona, will get to keep four or five distribution centers.

“This postponement will give us more time to get the word out and ask people how they’d be impacted by the change,” Mr. Fimbres said. “We’ve heard from local folks, but also people from Bisbee and Benson who have felt the impact.”

He added that the issue does not affect only Tucson and southern Arizona, but the whole state.

Mr. Fimbres believes that businesses will be hesitant to relocate to the area if there is only one post office to distribute their products or if they have to endure delivery delays.

“People can’t believe that this would happen to a city the size of Tucson, where there’s the University of Arizona, Raytheon and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base,” he added. Tucson’s 2013 population was estimated at 526,116 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mr. Fimbres said he received 750 responses to a survey asking Tucsonans for input about mail service.

One response stated that it now takes five days to receive a letter sent within the city. Many of the survey responses raised concerns about receiving medication in a timely manner without having to pay extra.

“My mother is 90 years old, lives in her home by herself and does not drive,” a response from a resident said. “All of her medication she receives by mail. Why can’t in-town mail be processed here?”

Another respondent said he had stopped using mail and instead used Paypal and online banking.

The survey findings will be given to Rep. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, and will be presented to the United States postmaster general, Megan Brennan. It is unclear whether the Postal Service will take the survey responses into consideration because “the decision to consolidate mail processing operations is a business decision,” said Brian Sperry, a spokesman for the service. He added that criteria for choosing facilities for consolidation included expected savings, service, processing plant capacity and equipment usage.

Mr. Fimbres said he hoped this reprieve would allow enough time to convince the Postal Service of the importance of Cherrybell’s processing and distribution center to all of Arizona.

“The U.S. Postal Service needs to rethink and review the formula they’re using to determine which facilities are closing,” he said. “They need to listen to the people being impacted.”