MAHONING VALLEY Postal Service wants tubs back

Borrowed mail coolers are being restored to post offices.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A new notice is making its way onto post office bulletin boards.
Featuring a picture of a white plastic mail tub, it reads, "Round-up notice: The Postal Service needs your unused equipment back."
The notice also enlarges the print in the corner of the bin: "Warning: Maximum penalty for theft or misuse of postal property $1,000 fine and three years imprisonment."
But now, people who return the mail totes -- sometimes called a cooler in post office-speak -- may escape prosecution. In November the postal service granted amnesty to do-gooders who give back the bins.
Since then, repentant mail-tub hoarders are returning the functional, waterproof bins they've used for filing, packing and stacking.
Disappearing totes
The postal service bought 20 million coolers -- costing $3.25 each -- in the past two years. By late November 2002, it had fewer than 20,000 in its possession, the Orlando Sun-Sentinel reported.
Since then, 210,000 totes have been rightfully restored to their owner. But that still means the postal service is out almost $65 million in lost totes.
"That is a cost to the postal service that the people don't always see when people complain of the rising postal rates," said Tom Kerns, acting postmaster of Warren's three post offices. "It could become more costly to process mail without the proper equipment that we need."
An increase in automated machines processing mail has created a greater need for bins, Kerns said. Add to that a heavier mail flow during the holiday season.
It adds up to a shortage.
"It's not so much that they're sitting in someone's basement," Kerns said. "It's mostly out in the business world. They're sitting in people's mailrooms. It's not that they're intentionally keeping them, but they just haven't returned them."
Some returned
But since the notices were posted about eight weeks ago, a few hundred bins have been returned, Kerns said.
Tony Schiavone, postmaster of Brookfield's post office, said he received an e-mail in November instructing postal workers to remind customers to return the coolers. Though the shortage hasn't affected this area much, post offices in larger cities are feeling the pinch, he said.
Serious issue
"We do know this is a serious issue, and we made it a point to get all our empty equipment to the mail processing center every night," Schiavone said.
Youngstown's post offices tacked up the notices as soon as they arrived, said Mike Elias, customer relations coordinator.
"It's government property," Elias said. "If you're using it for non-postal items, it's better if you bring it here so we can use them."

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