Wright County Board approves jail food service contract extension

BY JOHN HOLLER

sunpressnews@ecm-inc.com

Nobody at the county level of government enjoys paying the costs of housing prisoners in the county jail. But, as one of the tenets of any governmental unit, it’s a price they have to pay. At the June 5 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners were asked to approve a three-year extension to its food service contract with Aramark. What followed was a 15-minute debate about how and what prisoners are fed and the cost to the county for the get that job done.

Jail Administrator Pat O’Malley appeared before the board with the proposed three-year food service contract extension, which is scheduled to expire July 1. The proposal would include no cost increase in the first year and 3 percent increases in each of the next two years. O’Malley told the board that the county has worked hard to cut an improved deal.

"Food is expensive," O’Malley said. "Aramark has seen an 11 percent increase in the cost of food they purchase since January 2011. Those costs are continuing to rise. We have had an excellent working relationship with Aramark and this contract would continue that at what we think is a good deal for the county."

The debate that followed ran the gamut from the serious to the humorous. The cost of simply feeding jail prisoners comes at a cost of $6,000 a week. O’Malley said that steps have been taken to reduce costs, like eliminating hot breakfasts – "the prisoners don’t have pancake breakfasts anymore." While not exactly a "bread and water" diet of old time movie vintage, O’Malley was quick to point that prisoners aren’t served the type of diet that most would aspire to.

O’Malley said that some of the costs involved with feeding prisoners are rules that are in place for nutritional requirements. However, he did elicit some chuckles when he said, "There have been almost no complaints, except a couple of complaints about turkey loaf."

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke asked about the tiered-system in the contract language about the cost of meals. The contract calls for price breaks for Aramark to deliver more meals. If the jail population was 50 or less, the cost per meal would be $5.21 apiece. If the number of meals needed is between 71-80, the cost drops to $3.59. Between 91-100, the cost is $3.11 per meal. Between 101-110, the cost is $2.90 per meal.

Sawatzke pointed out the disparity in the price breaks, saying that, at times, it would make more sense to throw away a meal or two to get a price break. If the number of meals made was 100, the cost to the county for that meal would be $310.80. If 101 meals were made, the cost would be $293.20 – an anomaly Sawatzke said should be addressed.

However, when put in context, the meals delivered to prisoners provide the required nutrition that state and federal laws have put in place, but it shouldn’t be construed as though inmates are enjoying the fatted calf.

"We went out there and a head a meal that the prisoners eat," Sawatzke said. "I can tell you this, if you get that food in a restaurant, you wouldn’t be happy."

The board unanimously approved the three-year contract extension with Aramark to continue the food service contract to the jail.

In other items on the June 5 agenda, the board:

AT the request of Commissioner Dick Mattson, the question of expenditures made on the Bertram Chain of Lakes property would be placed on the June 12 agenda. The matter wasn’t on the June 5 agenda, but two of the parks property advocates – Commissioners Pat Sawatzke and Rose Thelen – both challenged Mattson’s assertions during discussion. The item was asked to be placed on the June 12 agenda for further discussion in keeping with board protocol of not discussing non-agenda issues that could be viewed as being controversial.

SET a Committee of the Whole closed session for 10:30 a.m. following the June 12 board meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss real estate values and counteroffers on the sale of county property. Assistant County Attorney Brian Asleson told the board that the meeting will discuss the Clearwater-Pleasant Park, which has a handful of privately owned land parcels within its boundaries. Asleson said the discussion would center on the property boundary lines, which he termed as "pretty poor land descriptions."

RE-APPOINTED Connie Lounsbury to a three-year term on the Wright County Personnel Board of Appeals, effective July 1, 2012.

APPROVED a property tax abatement for the St. Michael American Legion Post 567. The property is eligible for a preferred property tax status, but the property owners did not file for the preferred classification until April 23 of this year.

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