Two county commissioners were skeptical that the jail saved so much money buying food from state purchasing.
By PEGGY SINKOVICH
and STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Food costs for the Trumbull County Jail dropped by about 27 percent the first full month since officials made the switch from a no-bid agreement with a Youngstown company to the state purchasing program.
The drop came despite the addition of about 4,000 meals in December than the previous month, as the jail kitchen started dishing up meals for inmates at the juvenile center.
Since Nov. 12, hot meals for juvenile offenders have been cooked at the adult jail, then taken to the juvenile facility by van.
The total food bill for December came to $20,498, about $4,000 less than November and the lowest of any monthly food bill this year.
"I'm very happy about it," said Ernie Cook, chief deputy of the sheriff's department, which runs the adult jail.
He estimated that by using state purchasing instead of Acme Steak Co., taxpayers will save about $32,000 a year.
The food provided through the state mental health department has been higher quality and more varied than what inmates have been served in the past, said Crystal Lapinski, head cook.
"The trusties really like it," she said, referring to inmates who have jobs in the jail.
Trumbull County commissioners voted to enter into a six-month contract for food through the state purchasing program after a series of Vindicator stories about how Acme had been given the business, worth about $159,000 a year.
County officials including Commissioner James Tsagaris and purchasing director Tony Carson were involved in urging the switch to Acme in 2001.
Formal bids were never solicited for a contract to sell groceries to the jail, though contracts worth more than $15,000 a year are generally required to be awarded through competitive bidding.
Carson said he was told by the prosecutor's office that competitive bids were not required, a contention prosecutors deny. He also says the choice of vendors has always been left up to the sheriff, although this contradicts other's recollections of meetings with Carson when the switch to Acme was made, and notes taken at those meetings.
The switch to Acme was to save money over the previous vender, Sysco Corp., Carson said.
Commissioners Tsagaris and Joseph J. Angelo Jr. have expressed skepticism that the state purchasing program could cost less.
"How could that be? No way. How could they raise prices and save money?" said Tsagaris, who had not seen the numbers generated by the jail. "They have to show me."
Cook said he has no problem with Tsagaris' looking at his numbers.
"I checked this twice. I know we're right," Cook said. "This is great news."
In the past, Tsagaris and Angelo have said they intend to have Carson seek bids on many contracts after investigations into county purchasing practices by the FBI, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and county prosecutor Dennis Watkins are complete.