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Stamp or shout, rates still rising

Be prepared to fork over another 3 cents to mail first-class letters beginning June 30.

The Postal Rate Commission has increased the price of a first-class stamp from 34 to 37 cents, raising the cost of a sheet of 20 from $6.80 to $7.40.

This is the second rate hike since January 1999, when first-class stamps jumped from 32 to 33 cents. In July 2001 the price of a first-class stamp rose to 34 cents. The Postal Rate Commission approved the latest increase March 22.

"The increase was necessary for a multitude of reasons," said Bill Noack, postmaster at Freeland.

One of those reasons had a lot to do with the realities of business.

"First-class mail has been hit hard because more people are using e-mail to communicate with one another, and they are taking advantage of online bill-paying services," Noack said. "This hurts our business."

The events of Sept. 11 and the following anthrax scare also had an effect on the postal service's bottom line.

"The postal service suffered a lot because of 9/11," said Jack Harrington, Langley's postmaster

"Both Sept. 11 and the anthrax situation hit us hard," he said. "Post offices had to irradiate mail during that time, which meant buying expensive equipment."

Postage rates on most other services also increase tomorrow.

"Most people don't understand that each class of mail has to pay for itself, so all of our rates are affected," Noack said. "I would like to see a change in the rules pertaining to that. It's a 30-year-old regulation that needs looking at."

Postal customer Kimberly Brasko agrees.

"I am bothered by the rate increase because one service can't fund one of the others, like parcel rates helping to fund first-class," Brasko said.

Some of the other new rates are:

n Postcards, up from 21 to 23 cents.

n One-pound package of priority mail, from $3.50 to $3.85.

n Express Mail for a flat, 8-ounce envelope, from $12.45 to $13.65.

Post office customers started preparing early by purchasing 3 cent stamps to finish off their 34 cent stamp supplies.

Unlike the last time the post office made a rate increase, postal customers will not have to buy rolls of 1-cent stamps to make up for shortages in stamps imprinted with the new rate. Noak said the Postal Service was ready for the change this time. In fact, Whidbey Island post offices have been pre-selling the new stamps.

"It's definitely better than the last increase last year," he said. "This time we are prepared with a good supply to make available to customers."

Some customers are not happy with this latest increase in the price of doing business. Langley business owner Sandy Wainwright is one of them.

"In my business I send a lot of first class mailings," she said. "This increase is going to make a difference to me."

There will also be some inconveniences for people who purchased a large amount of 34-cent stamps prior to the increase.

"Until my 34 cent stamps are used, it's annoying to deal with the 3-centers," said postal customer Paula Pugh.

Postage is available for sale online at the Postal Store at USPS.com.

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