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Process for meal bids questioned

By Staff | Apr 17, 2011

Staff members at Parker Oaks in Winnebago are not happy with the way the bids for supplying meals to inmates in the Faribault County Law Enforcement Center was handled.

And, they are letting Faribault County Commissioners know about it.

“We have been supplying meals to the jail for the past five years,” says Cherrye Tagatz, dietary manager at Parker Oaks. “The way the bid was presented made it impossible for us to bid to continue the arrangement.”

Parker Oaks Administrator Deb Barnes says she has talked to each of the commissioners expressing her concerns.

“They have responded there may be a possiblity to revisit the bids,” Barnes says.

Barnes was meeting with Commissioner Tom Loveall and Sheriff Mike Gormley last Thursday at Parker Oaks to further discuss the issues involved. Any decision would need to be done at the next commissioner meeting, by the whole board.

Tagatz says the request for bids from the sheriff’s department was received on March 21, and had to be returned before April 4.

“The bid included a request to provide equipment for the kitchen in the jail,” Tagatz says. “We simply did not have the time to get costs for equipping the kitchen.”

She says Parker Oaks was charging $3.30 per meal at the jail, less than the $3.45 which is the price proposed by the new company.

“We feel the commissioners were not told all of the information before they made their decision,” Tagatz says. “The main concern seems to have been trying to get the kitchen finished with no cost to the county.”

She says there is much more to the story than just the kitchen. She is concerned that some misinformation was used during the bid process.

“In the five years we supplied the meals, only six times were we not able to bring the meals to Blue Earth due to weather,” she says. “We also always brought extra food in case there were more inmates who came in during the day.”

Tagatz also says she always provided special dietary requests for inmates with health issues. Plus, she says, they were never called once about any issues such as too much food being prepared, or too little.

Parker Oaks charged the county $7,800 for meals last month, Tagatz says.

“We have two employees we send over every evening and they stay until 7:30 p.m.,” she explains. “They prepare the evening meal, then get the next day’s breakfast and lunch ready also.”

With an average of 24 inmates per day, Tagatz says they are operating on about a five percent profit margin.“I figured the cost of equipping the kitchen at $25,000,” she says. “If the company who was awarded the bid is going to do that, my concern is they can’t do it with just 24 meals.”

Tagatz says that means the new company will be going after nutrition site meals and Meals on Wheels. Those meals are currently being prepared by local entities such as Parker Oaks and United Hospital District.

“To lose this kind of revenue is very harmful to us,” Tagatz says. “As it is, losing the jail meals means we will have to cut our staff.”

But, if they lose their other meal service accounts, it could be devastating, Tagatz adds.

“We are a local company,” she says. “We pay $70,000 in local property taxes each year. We are a large employer in the county.”

Tagatz would like to see the commissioners re-examine the bid process.

“If the county wants on site meal preparation, fine, we can provide that,” she says. “But, the county should equip their own kitchen and then get bids for the meals. Otherwise it is not a fair game.”