County chooses local inmate food provider over low bidder

Published 8:08 am Thursday, April 6, 2023

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The Troup County Board of Commissioners has decided to continue inmate meal services with Skillet Kitchen over the low bidder. The bids were requested after the company asked mid-contract to up its prices due to increased food costs.

Purchasing Director Diana Evans said current inmate meal service provider Skillet Kitchen, a division of Kimble’s Food By Design, sent a letter in November 2022 requesting an 18 percent increase in the price of the meals it provides because of their increased expenses.

Evans said this isn’t the first time Skillet Kitchens has asked for an increase mid-contract. She said in 2020 they asked for a similar increase.

“When they did this, we asked them to make us aware during our budgeting process. It didn’t happen. We got it at the same time as we did the previous one, so we felt like the only option we had was to go out for bids,” Evans said.

“They had to go up and increase their prices because groceries going up. We all know about groceries going up,” Sheriff James Woodruff said. “I wish they had done it at budget time and not before budget time or after budget time was over, but we’ve gotten great service from them. We’ve never had any problems with their service.”

The county received bids from three companies for the inmate food service contract.

The low bidder, Trinity Services Group, out of Oldsmar, Florida, submitted a bid of $1.102 per meal for 550-599 inmates.

Kellwell Food Management, from Beattyville, Kentucky, submitted a bid of $1.134 per meal for 570-589 inmates

Skillet Kitchen, of LaGrange, submitted a bid of $1.3437 per meal for 550-599 meals.

Woodruff said as of Tuesday morning they have 558 inmates in the Troup County Jail, but the total normally ranges from 550 to 600. He said the kitchen typically has to make up to 1,800 meals per day.

Woodruff recommended continuing with Skillet Kitchen because they are local, and they can operate out of their facility on Webster St. in LaGrange in the event of a power failure or other emergency at the jail.

All three companies were asked how they would provide meals in the event of a power failure at the jail. Trinity and Kellwell both said they would utilize a mobile kitchen if necessary. Skillet Kitchen, which is run by Kimble’s Food by Design, said they would operate out of their facility on Webster St. in LaGrange and deliver the meals to the jail.

Trinity, who provides inmate meals in Carrollton also indicated that they could potentially prepare meals at the Carroll County Jail and deliver them to the Troup County Jail.

Sheriff Woodruff questioned their ability to transport hot meals multiple times per day from Carroll County. He said these companies often switch to feeding inmates cold cuts and cheese in the event of a kitchen problem.

“You can imagine how many times my phone is going to ring if we start feeding inmates cold cuts and cheese three times a day till they can get something figured out,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff said he believes in treating inmates fairly, which means feeding them properly.

“When people are in jail, everybody always calls me and says, ‘Feed them bread and water. That’s all they deserve, just bread and water.’ When it’s somebody’s grandson is down there, they would have a fit if I only fed them bread and water,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff explained that, unlike prison, most people at the jail are simply awaiting trial.

“Everybody in jail is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, so most of the people in my jail have not gone to court because of COVID as you can imagine, and all of those men and women are innocent,” he said.

“I want to stay locally if we can. Our local taxes should stay local,” Woodruff said, recommending Skillet Kitchen. “Whenever you have a problem when you can call them and they’re a mile away and they can come to your rescue.”

Evans noted that remaining with Skillet Kitchen would cost an estimated $158,796 over the low bidder, Trinity Services.

Ultimately, the commissioners unanimously voted to award the inmate food service bid to Skillet Kitchen.

The county will continue to pay with the rate it’s paying now until the new budget year starts July 1, Woodruff said.

“The new contract will start July 1, and it will state that any increase must be presented to the sheriff by Feb. 1 of each year so that he can include that in his budget for the next fiscal year,” Evans said.