Live Oak —
It has been a busy couple of months for Blair Beaty.
You may not know his name or face, but what he and his 40 employees do six-days a week almost certainly impacts your life in some manner.
In fact, if you are holding a copy of the Suwannee Democrat at this moment, there is a good possibility that Beaty and his team are directly responsible for that happening. You see, Blair Beaty is the current Officer in Charge at the Live Oak Post Office, which twice a week delivers this newspaper to many homes and businesses.
Beaty took over in July for retiring postmistress, Donna Luce and is expected to remain on the job until her permanent replacement is named. That’s a process that could take several more weeks…perhaps to the end of October.
It is hard to imagine Beaty arriving in Live Oak at a more challenging time.
Nationwide, the US Postal Service (USPS) is undergoing a major internal shift, as it tries to adapt to a world where email is now the dominate form of one-on-one communication. It is a shift made even more turbulent and complex, because - although not supported by any federal tax dollars - the post office’s major business decisions are all controlled by Congress.
If those issues aren’t formidable enough, consider the fact that Beaty took the reins of the local post office shortly before Suwannee County was hit by some of the worst flooding in its history, courtesy of Tropical Storm Debby.
The post office and what it does is often taken for granted. We give it little thought, unless there is a snafu, like a letter going astray or a birthday present arriving a day late. But when you start to examine the numbers, it is amazing how much mail is processed, even in a little town like Live Oak. And problems are a relative rarity.
By the numbers
In the 12-month period from last July to this July, Beaty says 1,339,096 letters and 2,124,803 packages were delivered to those served by the Live Oak Post Office.
(Those figures do not include mail delivered by the county’s four other post offices.)
That breaks down to an average of 12,371 pieces of mail processed in Live Oak each day. Of that daily number, only a handful - an average of 37 pieces - aren’t immediately deliverable. That works out to be a problem rate of just .003 percent.
Beaty says delivery difficulties are usually due to the lack of a forwarding address or the “sender” using an incorrect address. But he adds, one of the nice things about small town life is everyone knows everyone, so even with an incorrect address; most pieces eventually arrive at their Live Oak destination.
Beaty adds that he has been very impressed by how his clerks and carriers seem to take their jobs so personally and cites as an example the recent highway flooding problem.
“We had rural carriers who did everything in their power to make all their deliveries, even though they had to drive miles out of their way to do so. And they did this without knowing if they would ever be paid for the extra gas they would have to buy,” said Beaty. “They really care about their customers.”
He also points to the role the local post office played in helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA had representatives come to the post office primarily to verify flood addresses. However, according to Beaty, his employees were quick to tell the feds of other flooded areas with isolated homes that they needed to visit and inspect.
There have been a lot of news reports about the steep drop in US mail volume, as more and more people turn to the Internet. Interestingly enough, Beaty says that while that is true on the national level, here in Live Oak mail volume actually increased in the past 12 months, although only slightly. In comparing the last two years, he says the package volume climbed 4 percent. For letters, it was one percent, which Beaty largely attributes to an improving economy, where credit card companies resumed the process of soliciting new customers.
Running a post office isn’t cheap, however. The annual budget for Live Oak’s facility is $2,546,943, of which about $2 million goes for payroll.
And local revenues only produce $1,765,868.
If UPS or Fed-X had an operation generating that much red ink for any length of time, they might well close-down the operation and walk away from a community. The post office doesn’t have that flexibility. The approval process for closing any facility is long, arduous and often filled with political intrigue. And a community as large as Live Oak without its own post office is virtually impossible to imagine.
The future of the USPS
Still, every postal manager, including, Beaty, is under the gun every day to find new ways to shave expenses. To that end, the USPS has joined other large corporations, such as Motorola, in implementing the much-touted Lean Six Sigma business model, designed to quickly identify and implement cost-saving measures.
But of course, the post office isn’t exactly like any other American corporation and so some of the fiscal savings readily available to other businesses are not an immediate USPS option. For example, there appears to be general agreement that the number of postal employees needs to be dramatically reduced as quickly as possible. Yet existing labor contracts contain clauses blocking lay-offs.
Then there is the congressional mandate that the USPS pay for retiree benefits years before the money is actually needed. Supporters claim it is a sound business practice.
But postal officials maintain eliminating that requirement, which they say is not demanded of other companies, would return the USPS to profitability almost overnight and give the agency the time needed to rationally implement long-term change.
It is a stressful situation for those who work for the post office. Here in Suwannee County, Beaty summarizes his feelings this way, “We cherish our role in Live Oak. And we believe we remain relevant and important to our community.”
Live Oak —
It has been a busy couple of months for Blair Beaty.
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