County rejects privatizing jail kitchen
Rockland — The Knox County Commission unanimously voted Sept. 10 to reject a contract with a private company to allow jail kitchen staff time to prove they can cut costs to compete with an out-of-state food service provider.
Knox County Jail Administrator Maj. John Hinkley and Sheriff Donna Dennison said they had nothing against the current kitchen staff, but the jail needs to save money, as directed by the Department of Corrections. Dennison and Hinkley said they sent out a bid earlier this year for the food service contract in an attempt to cut costs.
"I hope you support my recommendation, that's what you hired me for, to operate the jail," Hinkley told commissioners.
Aramark, headquartered in Philadelphia, was the only bidder and initially said they were able to save the county $30,000 per year opposed to the current kitchen plan. In March, Kitchen Manager Bruce Schaff revised the menu to also cut costs by about $30,000.
Three jails in Maine, Kennebec County, Two Bridges Regional in Wiscasset and York County, use Aramark to supply food to inmates. Dennison said administrators in the other jails have been pleased with their performance and have saved money.
Hinkley added that Armark can provide other services the current kitchen cannot, including a state registered dietitian to review menus for medical and religious purposes, and an inmate food service training program.
The food service budget last year totaled $280,000.
James Anderson, whose mother, Varna, has worked as a cook in the jail for 14 years, said it has been difficult to watch his mother worry about job security over the past few months.
"Privatization is bad for Maine jobs and Maine people," Anderson said, and asked the commissioners to vote against the proposal.
Anderson said he has been in touch with so many representatives and legislators that " I may as well have Jeff Evangelos' number tattooed to my forehead." Anderson added he understands the county needs to trim the budget, but asked it not be done on the backs of employees.
The commissioners said although they wanted to support Hinkley and Dennison's recommendation, they felt it necessary to allow the kitchen manager until December to prove the alterations to the menu would reduce costs.
John Abbott, a cook at the jail for five years, said he is fighting for what he knows he has, remarking that although Aramark may rehire him, he is unsure if he would be subject to a pay cut.
"Give us a year, we'll keep revising things, we'll cut out coffee to save people their jobs," he said.
The jail maintains a garden, harvesting 720 pounds of potatoes last week, with more rows to go. Chickens are also kept for eggs, Hinkley said, all which diminish food costs.
Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart said the matter was a county issue that got politically out of control. He said letters about the possible change were sent to the governor's office and the Department of Corrections board.
Commissioner Roger Moody said he is sympathetic to the thought of privatization, as he said the future of jails will change, including a possible state-wide take over.
"The longer we stay where we are, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot, we need to think beyond county borders," Moody said.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at email@example.com.
594-4401 ext. 118
Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.
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