Of the Baker City Herald

If anyone is entitled to be bent out of shape over Sunday's postal increases, it's Steve Schauer.

Schauer, Member Services Manager for the Oregon Trail Electric Consumers Cooperative, says his utility runs about 40,000 pieces of mail each month through the Baker City Post Office. That makes OTEC by far the king of Baker County bulk mailers, according to Baker City Postmaster Dan Pipkin.

Yet Schauer isn't about to let a three-cent hike in the price of stamps or a 9 percent increase in the cooperative's bulk mail rate get him down despite the fact that the increase will add about $990 each month to OTEC's postage bill.

andquot;Where else can you stick a stamp on a letter and be certain that it's going to reach its destination whether it's across town or around the world?andquot; Schauer said.

That's the kind of sentiment that Pipkin says he's heard from the county's largest shippers, but not necessarily from everyday residents coming in to purchase the new 37 cent stamps or the 3 cent andquot;make-upandquot; stamps that must be affixed alongside 34-cent stamps after Saturday.

andquot;The people who ship the most mail have said the least,andquot; about the increase, he said. andquot;They understand the increases are tied to costs that we can't do anything about. It's the people who come in to buy a book of stamps who complain.

andquot;But for the most part they've been pleasant. This is the best transition we've had. We got the new stamps in plenty of time (the 37-centers, in American flag and antique toy varieties, arrived in Baker City June 7), and it's an increase we've known about for months. Often we know about them only a few weeks in advance.andquot;

According to the Postal Service, the increases are needed to cover increases in costs such as healthcare and fuel, but Pipkin notes they're also needed to help plug the service's $1.7 billion operating gap last year that was in part brought on by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Just renting enough tractor-trailers to move the mail in the days that commercial flights were grounded following the attacks cost the service $23 million, Pipkin said.

That was followed by anthrax scares along the eastern seaboard. Equipment to help screen the mail has been very expensive, Pipkin said but has not been placed in Baker City.

The smallest area post office to have received high-speed sorting equipment is in Pendleton, Pipkin said.

In fact, even the most rudimentary sorting equipment has not found its way into Baker County. The 400,000 letters and 75,000 flats and magazines that make their way through the Baker City Post Office are all sorted by hand, the postmaster said.

The local facility has 18 full-time employees and six part-timers none of whom called in sick when Pipkin needed them the most, during the days and weeks following the attacks as postal workers across the nation were dealing with the anthrax scare.

andquot;People don't realize the type and quality of the workandquot; that goes on in a post office, he said. andquot;That gives you some idea of their level of commitment.andquot;