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Local News

County Supervisors Agree to Price Increase for Meals Served to Jail Inmates

The board also approves a request from Casa Esperanza, forced to cut back services, to amend the loan agreement on its property

Looking at everything from the covenant of a local homeless shelter to county road improvements, the Santa Barbara County supervisors made their way through a busy agenda Tuesday.

One of the first items to come before the board was whether to approve a price increase for meals served to inmates at the Santa Barbara County Jail.

The jail provides about 3,300 meals to inmates on a daily basis and more than 1.2 million meals annually, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department has a seven-year contract with Aramark Correctional Services to provide these meals.

The jail's meal program came under fire earlier this summer when inmates complained that the servings were too small and contained too much soy.

The Sheriff’s Department has stated that the meals provided are up to state standards, and hired a private company in 2012 to provide the meals.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved increasing Aramark's contract by 2.34 percent, a Consumer Price Index increase, with a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Janet Wolf dissenting.

Under the changes, the meals served to inmates will cost 90 cents each, with kosher meals costing $3.06. Staff meals will cost $3.07, under the new changes.

Wolf expressed concern about the contract and how it would relate to the jail's kitchen being overhauled, because prices for the meals will increase during construction with meals having to be made offsite.

Project plans for the kitchen remodel could be brought to the board by mid-October, according to Sheriff's Department chief financial officer Doug Martin.

"I've always had concern with this contract from the very beginning," Wolf said. "We need to control what the cost is to our county, and we have definitely been hearing some issues with the Aramark contract."

When the board has heard so much about the poor quality of the food being served, Supervisor Doreen Farr told Martin he "shouldn't be surprised if it comes back before the board."

Supervisors also heard from the public and from the leaders of Casa Esperanza, a homeless shelter in Santa Barbara that has been beset by financial woes in years past and is now cutting programming.

Last month, Casa announced it would be eliminating its homeless day center operations as well the Community Kitchen lunch program because of funding shortages. Shelter officials said they needed to do it to focus on the 24-hour residential shelter program.

Because the loan agreement on the property also states that it is to be used for a homeless day center as well as a shelter, supervisors were asked to amend the agreement to include only the shelter. The board approved that request unanimously on Tuesday.

The shelter is exploring a sale of its Cacique Street building to a third party and would lease it back to reduce its debt.

 "If we're successful, we'd be able to retire all our debt and move forward on a cash neutral basis," Executive Director Mike Foley said.

He said that funding trends have shifted to provide "housing first" services from day centers like Casa offered, adding to the need to cut the program. Over the last six months, the group has been aggressively fundraising, but Foley said it became clear that cuts would be needed even if all of the goals were met.

"In retrospect, we could have managed this better in years past," he said, but added that the group has raised $192,000 with two weeks remaining in their campaign.

Foley called the move to drop programming "gut-wrenching," but said it presents a "golden opportunity" to move quickly into change.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal said government will never be able to do enough, but compared to other jurisdictions "we're doing a lot."

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he would have much rather heard about Casa's financial troubles earlier.

"I'm supportive of your mission," he said. "The people that are in that [nonprofit] community have big hearts but worry how they're going to pay for it later. ... I wish you all the best and I hope it works."

County supervisors also briefly looked at a project report for improvements that could move forward on the two-mile stretch of Hollister Avenue and State Street between San Antonio Road to Highway 154.

Widening that stretch to four lanes and adding signals or roundabouts at Nogal and Modoc will be examined during environmental review, the boad decided unanimously on Tuesday.

Putting in signalized intersections is significantly cheaper than roundabouts, and the project with signs would cost $53.2 million as opposed to $82.6 million for the roundabouts.

The plan would add bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities to the stretch of road and require the replacement of the railroad bridge.

Environmental review on the project is expected to wrap up in December 2014, with the roadway improvements completed between 2015 and 2025.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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