GUALALA, California (STPNS) -- The cost of a First Class stamp went up on Monday to 41 cents -- about five percent -- but local customers will pay up to 48 percent more for a Post Office Box in which to receive their mail.

Less publicized than the increase in stamps and postage was a nationwide adjustment in the cost of Post Office Box rental.

According to Manchester Postmaster Kathleen Murphy, the increased rates are based on the commercial real estate values of each post office building, using a ?value-based pricing algorithm? determined by higher-ups in the USPS.

Oddly, that algorithm results in the two smallest Post Offices in our area --Stewarts Point and Annapolis, California -- being assigned the greatest increases in box rent, and the highest rates among main post offices on our coast. The two offices were placed in pricey Rate Category 4. (Sea Ranch is a contract station, and its box rental rates are independently determined by the Lodge owners.)

For the smallest boxes, called Size 1, rates at Annapolis and Stewarts Point increased from $28.00 to $40.00 per year (payable semi-annually), and a  Size 3 box is now $104.00 per year.

Point Arena, Manchester and Elk were moved up from Group 6 to the higher-priced Group 5. Their Size 1 box which was $26.00 per year is now $36.00; the Size 3 was $70.00 per year, and was hiked to $96.00.

Gualala, which is has a Group 6 designation, now has the least expensive P.O. Boxes on the coast. A Size 1 which was $18.00  per year is now $26.00 -- still a 44 percent rate hike. The Size 3 box in Gualala goes from $48.00 to $72.00 per year, 48 percent more.

Many mail customers receive their mail from a mail carrier on established routes, and there is no Post Office charge for this service. (Customers must provide an approved mailbox.) Anchor Bay customers receive mail at a cluster of boxes that are served by the motor route, and those boxes are provided by the Post Office at no charge.

Customers who have no way of receiving mail other than at the Post Office may get away rent-free. Small (Size 1) Post Office Boxes are available at no cost to customers whose live more than one-half mile away from the contract mail delivery route, or whose residence or business is within a quarter mile of the Post Office. To qualify, customers must provide identification and proof of physical residence, such as a utility bill.

Manchester Postmaster Murphy said that said she planned to request  a USPS review to reconsider the reclassification and resulting box rent increases at her office, and that other postmasters could do the same.

The new box rent rates go into effect when each box?s six month lease expires.