SIOUX CITY -- In October, the Diocese of Sioux City mailed 30,000 notices of its annual financial campaign. Many Northwest Iowa Catholics either never received the mailing or got it after their parish priests had talked about it during Sunday sermons.
Around the same time, Morningside College mailed alumni invitations to a homecoming celebration. At least a couple of those invitations arrived in mailboxes after the event.
Those mailing snafus happened just after Sept. 30, when the U.S. Postal Service closed its Sioux City distribution and processing facility at 2901 Murphy Drive and began sending mail to Sioux Falls for processing. Companies that send bulk quantities of mail worried that the change would mean slower mail delivery.
Those worries appear to have been for naught. Those October delays occurred during the transition between Sioux City and Sioux Falls. Since then, service seems to have returned to normal.
"We should have had that mailing to the Post Office earlier," said Morningside Vice President for Communications Rick Wollman, of the homecoming mailing. "But other than that one mailing in October, I'm not aware of any specific problems that we've experienced."
Kristie Arlt, director of communications for the Diocese of Sioux City, said the diocese's mass mailings since October have been delivered on time.
"We haven't had any problems," Arlt said.
From mailbox to mailbox
The postal service expected some delays during the transition, and there were for a couple weeks, said Chris Shanahan, owner of Mail House Inc. in Sioux City, which contracts with businesses to sort and process bulk mailings before taking them to the Post Office.
"We weren't scared to death, but we knew there would be some hiccups," Shanahan said. "It's pretty much back to normal. I haven't heard a complaint for the longest time."
Concerns about mail service in Sioux City still exist, however.
Jim Price, executive officer of American Postal Workers Union Local 186, said Sioux City mail carriers have noticed a drop in accuracy in mail sorting. It's not uncommon for carriers to receive mail that is not accurately sequenced by address, thus not enabling them to deliver it as quickly and sometimes forcing them to return it to Sioux Falls for reprocessing.
"The quality, there's no doubt in my mind, has gone down," Price said. "I think a lot of that is attributed to the large volume of mail they're dumping on those facilities."
He also said that when the Sioux City processing facility was in operation, it was able to process any mail it received the same day.
"I just can't really see that that pattern is continuing (in Sioux Falls)," Price said.
Official: Delays happen
Richard Watkins, spokesman for the postal service's Des Moines-based Hawkeye District, said Sioux City and Sioux Falls postal officials are working to fix the problems. It's not surprising that adjustments are necessary. The Sioux Falls processing center now handles 3.4 million pieces of mail daily after adding nearly 1.4 million pieces of mail from Sioux City every day.
"We anticipated that we would have to tweak our performance," Watkins said.
More tweaks are on the way nationwide. On Thursday, the postal service announced plans to close more than 260 additional mail processing centers, including those in Carroll, Iowa, and Norfolk, Neb.
Watkins said statistics show service in Sioux City is improving. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2012, from October to December, 95.5 percent of mail brought from Sioux City was processed overnight in Sioux Falls and returned to Sioux City for delivery the next day to Iowa ZIP codes beginning with 510, 511, 512 and 513. That number has increased to 97.6 percent thus far in the second quarter, Watkins said.
Watkins said a priority is placed on delivery of first-class mail. Other categories of mail are handled in accordance with postal policy. Those stories about a package or letter taking two weeks to arrive at its destination are anomalies, he said. Mistakes happen.
As someone who works with large volumes of mail, Shanahan said delivery delays are inevitable, whether it's human or machine error.
"It's part of technology," he said. "Things get misrouted."