BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is looking at taking advantage of a lower cost service provider for meals to inmates being housed at the jail.
During Tuesday’s county budget reviews at the North Lee County Office building in front of Lee County Supervisors, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber unveiled the new plan which, he said, could save the county millions because it’s an ongoing cost.
The sheriff’s department currently gets their meals from the Iowa State Penitentiary at $3.50 per meal for two meals a day which costs taxpayers $229,950 annually not including breakfast. Inmates are getting toaster pastries for breakfast at a projected cost of about $20,000 per year.
Under the new plan being proposed by Consolidated Correctional Foodservice, a subsidiary of Consolidated Management Co. of Des Moines, meal prices could drop to as low as $1.65 per meal with an upfront kitchen remodel at a price tag of $65,000 to $80,000.
Sheriff Stacy Weber said the largest increase in the proposed budget for 2018-19 is feeding the inmates.
“It’s a complex thing because you can’t predict how many you’re gonna have. These are people and you just can’t feed them bologna sandwiches every day. Some do it, but I don’t think that’s very smart. We’re anticipating that cost in 2018 to be about $250,000. We know that’s a problem, but we also have a solution. We’ve price-shopped and visited with another company regarding the food.”
Weber said he doesn’t apologize for his staff looking for options and said meals are a big part of doing business at the jail.
Jail Administrator John Canida, worked up a proposal based on 90 inmates a day which would equal 270 meals per day, for a total of 98,550 meals per year
“I’d like to go to this,” Weber said. “To me it’s a necessary evil, you have to feed them, but if we can do it for half the cost we’re paying now, we’d be stupid not to.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug said he was concerned about severing ties with the penitientiary.
“My concern, and again maybe I’m in front of the cart. These companies come and go and prices go up, but if we were to sever ties can we go crawling back or could they take us back. Because you know they are always going to be there.”
“They’ve got most of the colleges in the state, they’ve got several jails across the state and Minnesota. They are in our region in Des Moines. They bring in their people to cook it and clean it up afterwards. All we’d do is pick up the cart, deliver the meals, and bring the cart back,” Canida told the supervisors.
“They also get all inspections, supplies, groceries are included. They take all that on themselves in that cost.”
He said the company typically has a 1.5 to 2% annual increase for cost of living expenses.
At the current rate with the prison over five years, Canida said it would cost the county $1.25 million including breakfasts at current prices. With Consolidated providing the services the county would see a $813,000 bill over five years for a savings of about $437,000 or $87,400 per year.
There was also an option to finance the kitchen upgrade over a five-year contract with Consolidated, which would push the per meal price to $2.03. At that rate, the county would still save about $250,000 over current prices and rates.
Weber said it had nothing to do with the service or food coming from the prison – it was just a matter of being efficient with taxpayers’ dollars.
“This is nothing against the prison, you know we love those guys, they’re our brothers up there,” Weber said. “But tasking someone to load up a van and leave the facility to transport our meals down here is just one less C.O. walking the yard. That’s how I see it.”
“I think this meal plan on paper looks great. The only concern is that are they trying to buy the business just to get in the front door and then be gone in a year or two,” Pflug said.
“You’re not going to get it down much lower than that,” said Supervisor Gary Folluo.
Lee County Supervisor chairman Don Hunold encouraged the supervisors to look at the math on the plan.
“I’ve been doing it just sitting here – that’s a good deal,” Hunold said.