BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A plan to move to a new vendor for meal services may end up becoming an upgrade to the jail.
At Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, John Hansen of Midwest Construction Consultants and Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber updated the board on the cost of retrofitting the current jail kitchen and possible other alternatives to allow a new vendor to provide meals to inmates at a reduced cost to the county.
Hansen told the board it would cost between a $140,000 and $162,000 to upgrade the current kitchen to meet the specs of Consolidated Correctional Food Service out of Des Moines, for providing meals to the county.
Currently the Iowa State Penitentiary brings meals to the county jail at a cost of $3.50 per meal twice a day. Weber said current numbers have the jail population at about 70, but last month they hovered around 100. At 75 meals per day, the jail is spending $525 a day on meals from the prison, and that figure doesn’t include a light breakfast which may include such things as toaster pastries and milk or juice that jail staff purchase locally.
Consolidated would provide meals on a sliding scale and at 70 inmates, the meals would be approximately $1.65 per meal. However consolidated would provide three meals per day. If the population would drop below 40, the meals would climb to $2.40, which would still be cheaper at $7.20 per day then the $7.00 plus breakfast that is currently being spent. Weber has indicated that ISP has hinted at moving their price per meal to $3.75.
Consolidated could come in and do the retrofitting for the jail, but would require a five-year commitment and the prices of the meals would go to $2.03 per meal, at a minimum, to pay for the upgrade of the kitchen. Lower inmate populations, again, would result in a higher per meal rate.
“I talked with John yesterday, I’m disappointed in how much the expense would be to put the kitchen in,” Weber said. “There’s another avenue we could take if we want to move forward and that’s the expansion area next to the kitchen. In reality, if we changed that into a cell block area we’d probably only get about four cells in there anyway, so as far as actually making a difference in space for inmates, it really doesn’t do that much for us.”
The expansion area Weber was referring to is a partially finished 300 ft by 300 ft room with a garage door, that was originally planned to be used for jail expansion when and if needed. But Weber said a better cell expansion area would be the swing-dorm area where sex offenders are currently kept. Weber said that space would probably be enough to add room for 12 more inmates.
The new kitchen would require a grease reclamation and venting systems that would require heavy renovations including going through two roofs in the current kitchen and concrete floors to the sanitary sewer underneath for the grease reclaimer. The alternative location only has a single roof and part of the floor is still gravel with the sanitary sewer lines less than two feet underground, which Hansen said would be substantially easier and cheaper to deal with.
Supervisor chair Don Hunold told Weber and Hansen to have some contractors come in and give an accurate bid for the work in the alternative area.
Weber also talked to the board about funding the project with revenues received from housing inmates from other counties. He said currently the county is receiving upwards of $20,000 a month from Henry and Des Moines counties for housing inmates from those areas. He said Des Moines County has helped house Lee County inmates, when Lee County didn’t have sufficient facilities.
“We’ve had their backs because they had ours, but I would prefer whatever money we spend on this we let Des Moines and Henry County pay for because we’re making this income from holding their inmates,” Weber said. “If we haven’t done so, lets set that money aside to pay for it. That’s around $20,000 a month.”
County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom said Wednesday that the county does have a revenue line in the sheriff’s budget for the incoming revenue from other counties. But she said that revenue goes over the general fund. Weber cited Iowa Code 356.7 to the supervisors which indicates that 60% of all revenue from housing inmates whether local or state or federal has to be earmarked for jail expenses in the county that received the revenue.
“I’ll have to get with him and work on that because, when he says it – his revenues don’t cover his budget,” Renstrum said on Wednesday.
Supervisor Matt Pflug asked Weber at Tuesday’s meeting, what he thought would happen with the inmate population trends.
Weber said he thinks the business from Henry County is going to end because they’ve broken ground on a new jail, which would be up and running in about a year and half.
“But I think the Des Moines County board is pretty satisfied the way things are going now. That’s how I interpret their outlook on this. I think they’ve had one or two bond issues that weren’t successful,” Weber said.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said he agreed with Weber that the money for housing other counties’ inmates should stay with the jail. Fedler told Weber and Hansen that he thought having a contractor come in give a solid bid on the project is the best way to go.
“I like your idea of getting contractors to come in and get estimates and then we’ll have a more accurate idea of costs instead of trying to do it ourselves and then contractors come in with a lot higher amount, which has happened in the past,” Fedler said.