Richland County OH commissioners OK jail food

Al Lawrence
 |  Special to the Mansfield News Journal


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The Richland County Jail should be able to keep within its $596,000 food service budget this year despite a cost increase and a jail population hovering around its 234-inmate capacity.

That’s what Richland County Jail Administrator Capt. Chris Blunk told the county commissioners Thursday when they approved a new contract with Trinity Services Group Inc., of Oldsmar, Florida, for both the jail and the Community Alternative Center. The contract represents an 8% increase per meal over 2023. The increase the previous year was 8.6%.

The contract calls for the county to pay $2.02 per meal based on an average of 701 to 750 meals per day and runs from May 29, 2024, through May 31, 2025, with the option for three one-year renewals. The county paid $1.87 per meal and spent $458,928 for jail food service in 2023 under the contract with Trinity that expires May 28.

Trinity was one of three companies that responded to the county’s request for proposals this month. Summit Food Services of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, submitted a price of $2.26 per meal while Aramark, of Philadelphia, submitted a figure of $2.46 per meal.

Rising costs not unexpected

County Central Services Administrator Rachel Troyer said officials were not surprised meal cost went up considering that food costs in general are continuing to rise.

“One of the things we did in this particular contract this time is that at renewal time we are holding their feet to the fire and they have to follow the Consumer Price Index for food and they cannot increase it above that,” Troyer said.  “As long as it follows that index, we hope we won’t see an eight, 10, 12% increase unless the Consumer Price Index does go up that much, and I think it was 4% last year.”

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show a 3.4% increase in the index for the 12 months ending in December.

Blunk anticipated that food costs also will be up because this year because of a rising jail population. Average daily population was 184 in January, 216 in February, 243 in March and 234 in the final days of April.

“I expect that to continue around our capacity, which is 234,” Blunk said. “Our staff tries really hard to keep it at that capacity limit.”

Fewer inmates to help with meal prep

Another change with the new contract is a reduction from eight to four jail inmates helping in the kitchen with meal preparation. During 2024 budget reviews this past fall, Blunk proposed replacing the inmates with food service contractor employees in an effort to improve jail security and safety, deal with illness outbreaks that affect work and reduce contraband coming into the facility. However, the request for proposal called for inmates to continue working in the kitchen in order to save money.

“I realized that when you take away four inmate workers from that kitchen I anticipated a little bit more of an increase for the food service provider to hire more workers to cover than workload,” he said, adding he was satisfied with the 8% increase.

The contract calls for a 2,800-calorie diet for each inmate that includes a cold meal for breakfast and hot meals for lunch and dinner, with snacks for diabetics and those coming back from court, with the general menu rotating every four weeks. There also are five or six special holiday meals with item such as turkey for Thanksgiving and hamburgers and hotdogs for Independence Day.

In other business Thursday, commissioners

  • appointed Crystal Shaffer, who works at OhioHealth, to a four-year term on the county Mental Health Board starting July 1;
  • authorized the Richland County Park District to use proceeds from an operating levy that voters approved in November; and
  • approved a $3,640 contract with Standard Plumbing to perform state-required water backflow tests at 12 county-owned buildings.

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