Good "address hygiene" will keep those letters humming smoothly through the county's new postal center, the manager told Severna Park residents this week.
In the world of mechanized mail where bar code sorters rule the routes, having clean hands and a pure heart is not enough. A white envelope and a typed address with every letter a capital is necessary, too.
And one more thing. No punctuation. Not even the period after MD.
Bert Olsen, manager of the Magothy Bridge Delivery Distribution Center, explained to the Greater Severna Park Council Tuesday that the new machines can read a hygienic letter more easily, thus speeding the process.
He also said excess information on the fronts of envelopes, often added in mass-mailings, confuses the machines.
Mr. Olsen talked about trays and cages, "sprayed" bar codes and carrier routes.
And he explained and apologized for the problems Severna Park residents have encountered since the new postal center opened in February -- delayed delivery, torn mail, stamps ripped off.
"Honestly, the mail that goes through the machine does get torn," he said. "You will see some torn mail, but you shouldn't see a high increase."
Less than a half-percent of the mail that goes through the machines is torn, he said.
Mr. Olsen also addressed complaints that letters mailed from one address to another in Severna Park have traveled to Baltimore and back.
"Local mail should not leave Severna Park," he said.
"Apparently we did have a problem with that, but everyone who works at the facility is now aware of the procedure."
The $3.2 million center near the Earleigh Heights Fire Station receives canceled mail from the Severna Park, Pasadena, Glen Burnie and Linthicum post offices and sorts it for carrier routes.
By mid-summer, the center also will handle mail from Millersville, Arnold and Hanover.
During the night, the bar code sorter machine sorts letters that have been sprayed in Baltimore with an 11-digit bar code. Mail without the code, or mail the machine can't read, is hand-sorted.
About 20 carriers come in each day and sort the mail by address for their 500 to 600 deliveries.
Mail from Linthicum is automatically put in order by house in the trial run of a plan to use machines instead of carriers for that job as well as the original sorting.
As proof of the center's effectiveness, Mr. Olsen cited statistics. It takes roughly 13 hours for people to sort 12,000 letters. The delivery bar code sorter can sort the same amount of mail in just one hour, he said.
But Severna Park residents seemed more interested in the difficulties of mechanization, complaining of letters with stamps ripped off being sent back to them marked, "postage due".
Mr. Olsen said they should take the letter to the old Severna Park post office.
When a stamp just won't stick, he advised glue, because tape can cause problems.
But, one resident said, "If you get Elmer's Glue on the front of the stamp, you'll have problems too."
The postal facility manager advised people to contact him with problems.
"Be a squeaky wheel," he said. "When you have problems, let me know, and I'll do my best to correct them."