Jail Food Service at a crossroads

By Greg Hunt

With a nod to the democratic process, the Isanti County Board at its Nov. 16 meeting took a step back from privatizing the county’s jail food service to give the eight staff members a two-week window to match the cost-saving measure.

On that meeting’s agenda was the action to award the 2012 jail food service management bid to A’viands Food and Services of Roseville for a contract total of $223,760– a $159,013 savings from the $382,773 budgeted for next year by the existing system. That total included A’viands hiring the three present full-time jail food staff members, but it would have cut the jobs of five part-time members. The bids were based on a jail census of 55 prisoners receiving three meals a day.

Brian Aldes, vice president of Teamsters Local 320 which represents county employees, spoke, “Our concern is: where does this end? Today, it’s food service. Tomorrow, it’s custodial and maintenance services. What’s next?”

Sheriff Russ Monson was next to speak. “I’ve been meeting extensively with the kitchen staff the last few days, talking about this issue. Looking at the budget situation– the savings we could make– it was clear to me based on the bids we got that A’viands was clearly the right choice, as far as I was concerned.

“But I need to get this off my chest. I’ve known (full-time jail food staff) Dawn (Anfinson) and Yoon Hee (Lind) a long time, and they’ve been tremendous employees. They have run a great kitchen and every time came under budget. One thing I didn’t think about in a timely way was giving them the opportunity and respect to let them cut the budget, to see if they could do it. We didn’t go to them, and I’ll take responsibility for it.

“Our employees who did a great job– all the time, year upon year,– we didn’t think to go to them first, saying here’s what we need: here’s the cuts we need to make from our budget. Can you do it? How close can you get?”

To County Administrator Kevin VanHooser, Sheriff Monson said, “I know I’m switching gears, Kevin, and I’m not opposing A’viands because I know we’re having three full-time members saving their jobs at the same pay. But I know there’s a principal involved here– a principal of privatization.

“In this particular situation, I’m asking the board to just consider giving the kitchen more time to see if they can cut the budget. I’m kind of doubtful they can cut that much, but we never asked.”

Anfinson, the jail food service manager and a 13-year county employee, followed up the Sheriff by saying she and her staff have worked the past couple days to find savings in their 2012 budget proposal. First, she said they reworked the $130,000 groceries cost list for a $20,000 savings.

“I personally would be willing to take a $2/hour cut for a savings of $4,800,” she said. Then fighting tears, Anfinson continued, “My part-time wonderful staff – who comes in on weekends and holidays – were willing to take a $2/hour pay cut which would cut $6,240. Yoon Hee Lind has offered to give up her health and dental benefits for a savings of $8,872.”

With other cuts outlined, Anfinson totaled, “That comes up to around $90,000, along with cuts from the meal plan. I just think it would be a big mistake to go with another company. The employees we have now are very dedicated. We care how the food is put out, and that’s very important. Because if the prisoners aren’t happy with the food, then that just makes it that much more trouble for the jailers. We work well with the Sheriff’s staff and the jail staff.”

“You’ve done a very good job, there’s no question about that,” said Board Chair Larry Southerland, the former Isanti County Sheriff.

Sheriff Monson’s requested the food service crew get an extended two weeks to further explore cuts to see how close they can get to the $159,000 cost savings associated with the A’viands contract. Marty Fox of A’viands said his guaranteed bid will be good for 90 days, so the extended time won’t affect that relationship. The board approved the request, and the item will be back on the agenda at the Dec. 2 board meeting.

* That meeting is the annual evening board gathering which starts at 6 p.m. on the 2nd. The Truth-in-Taxation hearing will interrupt at 7 p.m.

Hazardous Household Waste contract renewed

In what’s a really good service for Isanti County residents and the environment, the two-year Hazardous Household Waste contract with Chisago County was renewed at the Nov. 16 meeting. IC Zoning Director Tim Anderson explained that residents needing to dispose of hazardous wastes just need to pick up a voucher at his office and find out the distinct open hours at the Chisago County facility.

Anderson said examples of hazardous wastes are oil & latex paint, automotive products such as antifreeze, cleaning products, pesticides & other garden products, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent bulbs, and pool chemicals. He said there are still occurrences of people needing to dispose of old-time wastes such as DDT and mercury.

Commissioner George Larson said the contract with Chisago County simplifies the hazardous waste process instead of the county hosting its annual spring clean-up day as in the past.

Ditch clean-up with Mille Lacs Co.

Another co-op plan with an adjacent county was approved when the board set up a grange authority with Mille Lacs County to administer a clearing and clean up for the Co. Rd. 3 ditch which runs between the two counties. A five-member board, which will include IC Commissioners Southerland and Larson, will oversee the clean-up plan.

In other action, the board:

• Approved the five-year update to the 10-year Local Water Management Plan.

• Approved setting a public hearing to amend the Zoning Ordinance which would allow a resident to first construct a pole building on a property in an Ag or Residential District before constructing a house on the same property. Tim Anderson explained that in certain instances, requests were made to construct an accessory building first so people could store their belongings or house building materials.