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Shut center would save $29 million, service says; Higgins questions estimate in talks with postal chief

The U.S. Postal Service claims it can save $28.8 million a year by shutting its processing center on William Street, but Rep. Brian Higgins says he can't see how the agency can cut costs under a plan where every piece of in-town Buffalo mail will have to go to Rochester to be processed.

Under the Postal Service plan to close the Buffalo mail processing center and move its work to Rochester, the bulk of the cost savings would come from reduced personnel costs.

But a one-page summary of the feasibility study of the proposed Buffalo closure also showed that the agency would save $2.85 million annually in transportation costs because of that move.

Higgins wonders how that can be.

"How can you say you've realized transportation savings when you're taking a letter that's mailed from Buffalo to Buffalo, and it's going to Rochester to be processed?" Higgins asked.

The Postal Service insists, however, that its cost estimates are accurate -- all because the move to Rochester will allow it to operate with trucks that are more full with mail than they are now.

"We'll be maximizing the use of the trucks that are going to the installation" in Rochester, said Karen Mazurkiewicz, the Postal Service's spokeswoman in Buffalo.

That's not a good enough explanation, though, for Higgins, who took his complaints about the closure to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe on Monday.

In the meeting with Higgins, Donahoe reiterated one important point about the Buffalo closure: While more than 700 jobs would disappear from the William Street facility, the Postal Service does not expect to lay people off there.

The employees there would have the chance to get other jobs with the Postal Service in the Buffalo area, Donahoe told Higgins. And some, if they chose to do so, could move to Rochester, where Postal Service employment would increase by about 500 because of the move.

Nevertheless, Higgins remained livid about the closure and the process leading up to it -- and he made sure Donahoe knew it.

"I told him the entire process was a sham," Higgins said. "There was no transparency. There was no consistency. There was no comparative analysis, no cost-benefit analysis."

Mazurkiewicz said the Postal Service considers the full feasibility study to be a "cost savings analysis."

"It's still being tweaked," the Postal Service spokeswoman added.

What's more, the Postal Service is not making the full report immediately available.

The Postal Service told The Buffalo News that the full report will be available only through a request filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Short of more complete documentation, though, Higgins said: "I don't buy any of their arguments."

Higgins said he complained about the lack of more complete information about the closure to Donahoe, who, he said, stuck to arguments about how the Postal Service had to balance its books.

In addition to the $2.85 million in annual transportation savings, the Postal Service's one-page summary of its feasibility study said closing the Buffalo facility would result in:

*$12.95 million in mail processing employee savings.

*$3.85 million in management savings.

*$9.16 million in maintenance savings.

The Postal Service announced the Buffalo closure last week, saying it will take place sometime between this May 15 and next February.

While the Postal Service has said the closure decision is final, Higgins said he remains hopeful that postal reform legislation -- which could repeal a requirement that the Postal Service prefund its retirees' health care costs -- could boost the agency's fiscal future.

"It would create a new economic reality," Higgins said of the reform legislation. "That would provide the breathing space in which to go at the postmaster general again" and ask him to reconsider the Buffalo closure.