A switch from fresh milk to powdered milk back in May at the McLennan County jail on State Highway 6 will save the county $21,000 in the upcoming 2014 fiscal year.
McLennan County commissioners approved Tuesday the renewal of a one-year contract with Trinity Services Group, which provides all jail meals.
County purchasing director Ken Bass said Trinity’s contract allows for a price increase related to the cost price index.
The CPI increase for 2014 was about 2.9 percent or $28,000, but because of the beverage switch, the jail was able to limit the increase to $7,000.
The county is expected to pay $959,000 for its meal contract in 2013 and, with the increase, costs are estimated to be about $966,000 in 2014.
Sheriff’s Capt. John Kolinek, head of the jail, said he and Trinity officials came up with changing the “breakfast beverage” as he was looking for ways to cut costs at the jail.
The jail’s budget for 2013 was about $18 million and is expected to increase as the cost of feeding and care of overflow prisoners continues to eat away at the county’s finances. In addition to the $18 million, the jail’s kitchen is expected to spend more than $1 million through the end of the current fiscal year.
The county jail can house more than 900 inmates, but when it reaches capacity, prisoners are sent to the neighboring Jack Harwell Detention Center.
Each inmate meal in 2013 cost 79.5 cents until it was lowered to 76.7 cents by changing the milk. The cost price index increase would have brought the meals up to 81.8 cents, but the lower-cost milk kept it at 78.9 cents.
Kolinek said the jail serves about 3,800 meals per day.
Kolinek said he receives a lot of good-natured teasing from his staff about using powdered milk, but there was a lot of thought invested in the change.
Kolinek often eats from the inmate’s menus to address complaints and ensure that what is being served is palatable.
When he looked at changing the milk, he ordered it and had the staff, himself and the inmates all taste it before committing to the switch.
Inmates are served from a five-week rotating menu of 105 different meals that have been approved by a dietitian. If an inmate has a special dietary need, the medical staff changes and delivers the meal.
Kolinek said he continues to look at ways to cut costs and has some additional product changes for the future, but nothing is finalized.
County Judge Scott Felton said he is happy the jail was able to come up with a solution to keep the cost of food from escalating too high.
He said vendors are suffering from higher health costs because of the Affordable Care Act and expected those prices to be passed onto their clients.
“We drank powdered milk quite often when I was a kid,” he said, laughing at the memory. “Put enough chalk in it and it’s all right.”