The cost of sending a first-class letter in the United States went up a penny Monday, forcing people with obsolete 32-cent stamps to line up nearly 30 deep at the Payson post office to buy penny stamps.
U.S. Postal Service officials, who reported a surplus of half a billion dollars last year, said they raised the price of first-class domestic stamps to 33 cents this week to cover future operating expenses.
It is the first rate increase the post office has had in four years.
"Our costs, like yours, go up," Payson Postmaster Kathy Almendarez said. "The post office receives no tax dollars. We rely on the sale of our product to cover costs. We're just raising prices enough to get the job done."
The 10- to 15- minute wait to buy postage and to mail letters and packages in Payson was exacerbated Monday by the out-of-order signs on the stamp machines in the post office lobby.
Post office workers were still waiting Monday for the parts they needed to retool the machines to sell 33-cent stamps.
Almendarez said she expected the parts to arrive today (Tuesday) and to have the machines up and running by the afternoon.
But not everyone waiting in line Monday afternoon was waiting to buy penny stamps. Marilyn Castleman of Payson, who bought 33-cent stamps in advance, was waiting to mail a letter to Canada.
"I already have my 33-cent stamps," she said, "but I guess this wasn't the best day to try to send a letter to Canada."
Although Castleman had to wait longer than normal to mail her letter, it didn't cost more. Foreign postage rates, which are broken into three classes -- Europe, Canada and Mexico -- remain the same.
"We're probably the cheapest thing going," Almendarez said. "The post office has increased what the customer pays by a penny for all standard first-class domestic mail, an average of 2.9 percent. That's less than half the rate of inflation during the four years that we've had 32-cent stamps."
Almendarez expects unusually long lines at the post office counter for the rest of the week. If you want to beat the crowds, come early, she said. If you come in the afternoon, be prepared to wait.
"It's comparable to a Monday right before Christmas," she said. "Of course, we're not making any money because we're just selling penny stamps. It's a lot of effort for very little money."
The post office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Foreign mail rates
Europe/overseas: 1/2 oz. - .60 -- 1 oz. - $1
Canada: 1/2 oz. - .46 -- 1 oz. - .52
Mexico: 1/2 oz. - .40 -- 1 oz. - .46