BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A plan to shift Lee County Jail inmate meal vendors from the Iowa Prison Industries to a Des Moines vendor took another step Tuesday.
After Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting, chairman Don Hunold briefed the board on the progress of the project at a workshop.
The sheriff’s department currently gets their meals from the IPI, a subsidiary of the Iowa Department of Corrections at 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 a 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 but the county would need to upgrade the jail’s kitchen at a projected cost of $65,000 to $80,000.
Consolidated has offered to handle the renovations in the kitchen, but would require a 5-year contract with meals set at $2.03 to offset those costs.
Hunold showed how it might be cheaper to take out a loan and use the savings on the meals to pay the loan off and save the county money on that cost.
Hunold handed out a scenario where the county would borrow the money for the kitchen renovation at an estimated 5% interest. Borrowing the money allows the county to keep the meals at $1.65 per day, which is a .38/per meal savings. With an average inmate population of 90, that number would equate to $102.60 per day annualized at $37,499 per year. With interest the county would be repaying approximately $81,000, he showed the loan would be paid off in 2.16 years. With the 5-year contract, the additional cost per meal would amount to $187,495 over the term of the contract, so the county would save $106,495 over the five-year period.
Supervisor Gary Folluo said if the county was going to take out a loan of that type he’d like to see some other projects rolled into the loan, but didn’t elaborate prior to the end of the workshop.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber, said Jail Administrator John Canida has been doing diligence on the plan and has said Iowa Prison Industries hasn’t been able to come down to that price.
“Prison Industries has reached out to us, but quite frankly I told them that if they couldn’t get to $1.65 I wasn’t interested. They’re trying to get into this business, too. There’s a profit in it or they wouldn’t be doing it.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug said he had a concern that Consolidated would be trying to buy into the business and then move to a higher per meal price. Pflug recommended trying to secure a long-term contract if Consolidated was open to something like that.
Wever said he has had conversations with other jails in Iowa that use Consolidated and there have been no problems. Weber did say that if the inmate population dropped significantly to like 20 inmates, the rate may increase, but he said other jails that have had that issue have never had rates higher than $1.85 per meal.
“I contacted a sheriff’s department that’s been using them for 10 years and that’s not been the case,” he said.
Weber also said the Juvenile Detention Center, which is located next to the jail, is on board with the switch, too, and will work in conjunction with the jail.”
“Whoever we go with, they’re going to piggy back right along with us,” Weber said.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said adding the juvenile center could help keep the meal numbers up.
Hunold told Weber to keep moving forward on the project. Wever said during the past month’s budgeting process he cut the department’s meal budget to $150,000 reflecting the change.
“It’s up to you but this is a tremendous way to start some savings. I’m with you guys. I don’t want to rush it. Let’s do what’s best for the taxpayer. But the point of this is saving money.”