Supervisors tap brakes on new jail meal program


MONTROSE – A new program to provide reduced cost meals to jail inmates was throttled back by Lee County supervisors Tuesday.

Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber was genuinely surprised when, in a workshop following a brief Lee County Supervisors” meeting, some county officials pulled back a little on changing the jail’s meal program to Consolidated Correctional Foodservice.

Four weeks ago, supervisors gave Weber a nod to keep working with the Des Moines-based meal provider to iron out the details of having the company provide meals to the inmates. Part of bringing the new service would be an upgrade to the jail kitchen at a cost of up to $80,000 including equipment and utility upgrades. Consolidated offered to do the renovations but the meal price would go up to a minimum $2.03 and they would require a five-year contract.

The new program would provide meals at $1.65 per meal to inmates three times per day. A sliding scale would be in play if the inmate population were to drop or rise substantially. The county is currently paying Iowa State Penitentiary $3.50 per meal for lunch and dinner. Inmates currently are getting a pastry and juice provided by the county for breakfast.

Supervisor Ron Fedler asked Weber if the jail population is decreasing. Weber said they are currently averaging about 70 inmates, but the rate with Consolidated wouldn’t go past $2.40 and that’s if populations go below 40. Because of Lee County’s higher capacity, neighboring counties such as Des Moines and Henry ask Lee County to hold inmates, but the county is compensated for most of those housings.

County Auditor Denise Fraise asked the county to consider additional costs such as fire suppression upgrades, sprinklers, gas lines, plumbing, and grease traps. After the meeting, Fraise said she didn’t have a total cost to her budget to implement the program.

“If we do this are we going to have to have John (Hanson) come in and spec this out. How much are utilities going to go up, maintenance, equipment replacement. We have to think about those things.”

Hanson is the construction consultant the county used in building the new jail and is currently overseeing the south Lee County Courthouse renovations.

Weber said he could appreciate Fraise looking into expenses other departments may incur as part of the project.

“I respect Denise looking into the gas bill and that kind of stuff, that’s on you guys. I don’t pay the utilities,” Weber said. “You guys asked us to find away to save money and this is a way. We’re giving you an option.”

Fedler said he’d like the county to take a closer look at the program.

“We need to stop and take a breath and weigh the pros and cons and also wait and see what average populations we’re having at the county jail once the Henry County Jail is built.”

Weber said he didn’t think it would ever get to the price the county is currently paying unless the population drops below 40.

“Have you guys been talking about this before, because this is all news to me,” Weber said of the change of pace.

Chairman Don Hunold said the board should keep going, but make sure all the costs are in place on both sides of the budget; savings and expenses are considered. Hunold asked Weber to sit with Hanson and see what a bid would look like and get specific costs on opening that project to other contractors.

“I would suggest we keep going and get all the costs because right now we’re just guessing,’ Hunold said.

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