by Jackie Nunnery
KILMARNOCK—This time last year, complaints were numerous regarding the timely delivery of mail, including newspapers. At that time the United States Postal Service (USPS) cited a record number of holiday package deliveries in 2020 as the problem. It is a new year, and a new problem, this time affecting Rappahannock Record delivery for most Northumberland subscribers.
Because of long-established postal delivery routes in the Northern Neck, the Record has mailed its papers for Northumberland subscribers at the Warsaw post office for decades. It was the only way to assure same day delivery to Northumberland post offices because there is no USPS delivery route directly to Northumberland from Kilmarnock, where most of the other copies are mailed.
Despite a year-end press release from the USPS announcing that the postal service was “operating smoothly,” the organization is still struggling to deal with changes, or course corrections, when problems occur. Case in point: A recent switch in a highway contract route (HCR) vendor. Previous long-time vendor, W&L Mail Service, would pick up the Northumberland newspaper bundles, representing about half of the paper’s mailed circulation, at the Warsaw post office and distribute them to the post offices in Callao, Lottsburg, Heathsville, Burgess and Reedville.
According to Rappahannock Record circulation manager Michelle Smith, that all changed in January when a new HCR vendor, Lyons, won the contract. They started picking up the newspapers in Warsaw and delivering them instead to the Richmond Processing and Distribution Center (PDC) in Sandston, just east of Richmond. If that name sounds familiar, that is because that PDC was the source of many delivery delays last year. As previously reported, a January 2021 audit of the Richmond PDC by the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) showed that “from July 1 to September 30, 2020, it reported 7,391 late trips, fourth highest among PDCs” in the nation. No updated audit report was available, but February 28 service performance data on the OIG website shows the Richmond district among the bottom 10 across the nation, with an on-time percentage of all mail at 83.9% compared to the target of 87.8% and that national average of 90.9%. Service delivery data is no longer available on periodicals.
At best, the newspapers sent from Warsaw to the PDC in Sandston take at least another day to be processed and returned to Northumberland. Subscribers there would receive their papers on Friday, or days later, instead of Thursday. Smith began receiving many complaints about the late delivery.
The Rappahannock Record has since hired another driver and has been delivering the papers directly to the post offices involved, while Smith and other staff members have spent many hours trying to get the former delivery arrangements reinstated. They were told the staff at the Warsaw post office had no authority over the vendors delivering mail. The search for a solution has gone through many USPS levels since then.
When Smith called on the National Newspaper Association for help, Tonda Rush, director of public policy and general counsel, contacted several USPS officials to assist, including Scott Raymond, Atlantic Regional Director for Logistics, who agreed to investigate. Zoom meetings with postal officials working on the problem were held, and just yesterday morning Raymond announced that changes have been approved and the previous truck route will resume this week. Smith said she is cautiously optimistic for a return to normal, but the Record is prepared to continue delivering to post offices until it can verify that USPS deliveries are being made regularly.
Rappahannock Record co-general manager Kate Oliver urges subscribers to check with their post office if their newspaper isn’t received. “They have extra copies to pick up free, or subscribers can always stop by the Record office and pick up a copy,” she said. The Record also has expanded the number of newsstands in Northumberland where folks can pick up a copy. The locations are
• Burgess: Lilian Lumber, Dollar General.
• Callao: Callao Supply, Little Sue (Shell station), Walgreens, Dollar
• Heathsville: Food Lion.
• Lottsburg: FasMart.
• Reedville: The Country Store.