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May marks annual stamp price increase, to 42 cents
Postage costs add up for utilities, hospital when its time to send bills
Richard Fink, to the right, assisting Kam Howard with his post office needs. - photo by DEMETRIUS FREEMAN
If you’ve got letters or packages to mail today, make sure you check the postage before you drop them at the post office or carry them out to your mailbox. Effective today, the cost of a first-class stamp goes up a penny to 42 cents.

The U.S. Postal Service not only has increased the cost of stamps, but other shipping rates as well. Increases range from a penny on a first-class stamp to 85 cents on a priority mail flat-rate box, which now costs $9.80.

Though bulk-mailers, such as utilities and nonprofit agencies, don’t pay retail prices for postage, those rates are going up, too.

Bonnie Jones, spokeswoman for Jackson EMC, said the postage increase will cost the utility an extra $2,000 a month to mail out its 200,000 bills. She said before the rate increase, Jackson EMC was paying 32 cents of postage on each bill. That adds up to an approximate postage cost of $64,000 monthly before the increase.

"Fortunately, everybody had a heads up that this was going to happen, so we budgeted for it, and (the increase) won’t be passed on to customers," Jones said.

Jones said Jackson EMC contracts with a professional mailing house, which takes steps to ensure the utility gets the best possible price for postage. Called "postage hygiene, methods used by professional mailing houses include presorting mail by ZIP code and checking addresses to make sure there are no typos and ZIP codes are correct, Jones said.

Going over address lists is something Northeast Georgia Medical Center is doing to address the cost increase as well, according to spokesperson Rhiannon Brewer.

"Departments are addressing this by making mailing lists more specific," she said. "And they’re looking at other types of mailings, such as sending out postcards instead of letters."

And for good reason: The hospital spends a lot on postage.

From Oct. 1 through the end of April, the hospital has spent $225,470 on postage, for an average of $32,211 a month, Brewer said. She said the mailing houses the hospital uses have said to expect about a 5 percent increase in their postage costs, which would mean an additional $1,610.55 each month.

Tina Wetherford, manager of finance and administration for Gainesville Public Utilities, said the postage increase also is going to affect the city, which spends $165,276 annually mailing out bills to its customers. According to its Web site, Gainesville provides water service through some 74,000 meters, serving about 115,000 customers.

"Even though we outsource our bills, we are charged based on what the postal rates are," Wetherford said.

And utilities and others don’t expect the increases to go away.

A new law, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, means that the U.S. Postal Service will adjust prices for mailing services every May. The postal service says it will provide 90 days notice before the annual change. The act, which was signed into law December 2006, states that rate increases must be consistent with the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Jones said Jackson EMC will have to budget for possible increases every year.

"It adds up," she said.

Retail customers do have a way to get around the annual rate changes, at least for first-class stamps. The U.S. Postal Service introduced "forever stamps" in April 2007 and has sold 6 billion since then, according to its Web site. The stamps are sold for whatever the retail price is at the time of sale, but can continue to be used even if the price of postage later increases. That means you don’t have to put those pesky 1 cent and 2 cent stamps on your letters to account for rate increases.

The Postal Service encourages retail customers to buy the forever stamps, noting that there were some 5 billion in stock to meet expected demand prior to the rate increase.

Although the Postal Service has issued stamps before that were not marked with a denomination — usually because of rate increases — those aren’t the same as forever stamps.

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