U.S. Rep. Angie Craig spars with Postal Service in bid to improve performance. Would a consolidation help?

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U.S. Rep. Angie Craig has been pushing United States Postal Service officials to improve lackluster performance in the south metro area, but it seems her messages keep getting returned to sender.

Craig, along with the mayors of Farmington and Lakeville, recently asked USPS officials to consolidate their two aging post office locations, and open a larger facility near the border of the two cities. USPS officials have rejected the consolidation proposal, contending that the locations are still meeting “present and future operational needs.”

Craig said she plans to keep pressuring USPS officials to review the need for additional sites, examine hiring procedures to help with staffing levels and be more transparent about the current priorities in delivering packages versus first-class mail.

“I am waving the flag in Minnesota that our service levels are not adequate,” said Craig, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District, a wide swath south of the Twin Cities including the cities of Lakeville, Eagan, Cottage Grove and Northfield.

Mail service has been an issue in this fast-growing area of the south metro, where new housing developments cover acreage that once belonged to rolling farmland. The same post office that served Lakeville’s 25,000 residents in 1990 is expected to meet the needs of 74,500 people today.

The consolidation proposal was just the latest salvo in a months-long skirmish between Craig and USPS officials about poor mail service. In August 2022, issues with the New Prague, Minn., office garnered her attention, with tours to the Prior Lake, Eagan and Lakeville post offices not far behind.

This week Craig pressed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to release his plan for handling mail during the peak holiday shipping season.

“I have been incredibly disappointed that USPS has refused to even consider this proposal. I’m going to keep pushing on this one,” Craig said.

Why consolidate?

In August, DeJoy announced national plans to open more regional mail centers and renovate local processing, sorting and delivery centers.

In September, Craig wrote to DeJoy, suggesting the plan to consolidate the currently leased Farmington and Lakeville offices for a new, larger location near the border between the two towns. It was supported by Lakeville Mayor Luke Hellier and Farmington Mayor Joshua Hoyt. She also delivered constituent complaints to DeJoy’s office.

With staffing issues, consolidating two centers into one larger area with increased room for larger mail sorting equipment makes perfect sense, Craig said.

In addition to a new location, Craig said the process of background checks for new hires has stretched into several weeks, making it hard to shore up staffing levels, and that a priority to deliver packages over first-class mail has contributed to delays in service.

As Lakeville has changed greatly in the last few decades, Hellier said, the location of the Post Office has not. Hellier and Craig toured the downtown Lakeville post office last January, finding that USPS employees were working in an outdated, undersized environment, and that the local office was operating at a workforce deficit, he said.

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“They are working in very tough conditions,” Hellier said. “The facility is outdated, plain and simple.”

During that tour, Craig said they saw pallets of undelivered packages sitting outside, covered in snow, making it clear that needs have outgrown space.

Meanwhile, on a tour of Eagan’s post office in July, Craig said she wasn’t able to see a truthful picture. She later received reports that post office administrators sent workers from other areas to shore up coverage and divert pallets of mail out of sight, and informed local workers not to speak to the congresswoman.

“It’s not helpful if you’re not actually going to be transparent when I visit,” Craig said. “There’s been a little bit of back and forth in that way, and it’s disturbing.”

Low performing

Customers line up for service in the lobby of the United States Postal Service office in Lakeville on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The Minnesota-North Dakota region routinely ranks among the 10 worst performing areas in terms of delivered first-class mail in the three-to-five day standard, according to USPS service performance figures. The region is currently last in the country, at just under 81 percent. The national average is 86 percent, with the highest performing regions counting about 92 percent of first class mail delivered in the three-to-five day window.

Last fall, Lakeville and Farmington residents began reporting significant delays in receiving mail. Craig opened a comment line for the matter, and received thousands of complaints.

At the height of the delays last winter, Farmington and Lakeville residents reported regularly going three or four days without mail.

“All of a sudden, I couldn’t figure out why I’m not getting mail,” Lakeville resident Larry Sanders said. “It would seemingly be a week or more, with no mail at all.”

The city of Lakeville got involved in the two weeks before last year’s general election. A city employee went to the post office each day to pick up any absentee ballots, and ensure delivery.

Last January, Lakeville resident Anita Wickhem often counted three days between mail service. She operates a fishing camp on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota and regularly receives reservations, invoices and other business related items in her mail here.

She signed up for USPS Informed Delivery, which emails customers photos of what they should be receiving in the mail. With mail days apart, Wickhem had to check exactly what came every day, and what was missing.

Sanders eventually signed up for the same online service.

Unanswered questions

Why is the region’s mail service not measuring up? Have Farmington and Lakeville outgrown their older post office locations? Are the outposts understaffed?

United States Postal Service officials declined to answer specific questions about the Lakeville and Farmington post office locations or general questions about the process of opening a new location.

“We expand service when necessary to meet our customers’ needs and to maintain a quality level of service,” USPS spokesperson Desai Abdul-Razzaaq wrote in an email to the Pioneer Press. “However, community growth in itself is not sufficient cause to establish an independent Post Office. We generally consider establishment of an independent Post Office when present Postal facilities fail to meet the needs of the community.”

In 2020, the USPS closed one Farmington location, essentially moving operations into the other location.

Service still lags, Hoyt said.

The Farmington mayor regularly ships dozens of small parcels for his business, but due to wait times to scan his packages inside the post office, and misplaced outgoing packages, he started using the United Parcel Service for the majority of his needs.

“It hasn’t been just the last six months, it’s been the last three years,” Hoyt said. “It’s frustrating, to say the least. I’ll tell you that.”

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