CADILLAC — Many people and businesses are struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that were put in place to help stop its spread.

Since March the number of unemployment claims has exploded and businesses have had to think outside the box if they wanted to remain open. This also has applied to vendors who prepare food for a living.

While those vendors who work within schools have been busy supplying meals and receiving funding to continue to do so, the vendors that work in our prison and jail systems have had to deal with lower numbers of inmates. Crime is still being committed but not all criminals, alleged and otherwise, have been taken to jail due to COVID-19.

As a result, inmate numbers are lower and the number of meals prepared also is lower. Canteen Services of Northern Michigan provides daily meals at the Wexford County Jail.

The existing agreement with the vendor is effective from Sept. 1, 2017-Aug. 31, 2020. In Section V(A) of the contract, a rate schedule is listed that decreases its per meal price as the daily meal count increases. The contract was negotiated to coincide with the opening of the new Wexford County Jail and an increased inmate population.

The rate schedule's low end is a daily meal count from 102-117 inmates at $3.07 per meal and tops out at 404 meals at a rate of $1.59 per meal. Like many people and businesses, however, Canteen Services didn't plan or anticipate the impact of a global pandemic on its revenues.

According to information provided by Wexford County Administrator Janet Koch, Wexford County Sheriff reported on June 23 to the county's Human Resources and Public Safety Committee that the jail's population on that day was 38 inmates. Before the pandemic, the jail was averaging 110 inmates a day. On July 6, the inmate population was up to 43 but still well below the low end in the contract.

As a result of those lower inmate numbers, Canteen Services has submitted an addendum to the contract agreement asking the county to temporarily pay a price increase per meal of 30 cents until daily meal counts return to an average of 74 meals. At that time, the price would revert to the contracted amount.

On Thursday, the Wexford County Finance and Appropriations Committee will be discussing this.

The budget for the line item for Kitchen Supplies is $250,000. From January-May,

costs have been expensed to date, leaving an available balance of $176,978.66, which is just over 70% of the total budget.

Wexford County Jail Administrator Lt. Michael McDaniel said the food vendor approached him with the idea of increasing the price per meal until numbers stabilized. McDaniel said it was not his decision to make so he forwarded that to the administration for review. He said the cost increased would be an added $36 a day using an inmate count of 40. He said with the budget still near 70%, the increase definitely could be absorbed by the budget for Kitchen Supplies.

The recommendation from the administrator's office is the finance committee forward this item to the full board for consideration and approval.

Wexford County Administrator Janet Koch said the county has had a multiple-year relationship with Canteen and will be looking at the request. She said she can't argue everyone is struggling as a result of COVID-19, including the county, but she also knows the number of meals is lower than what was contracted. While the situation is neither the county nor Canteen's fault, one could argue the county hasn't been able to keep up their end of the agreement.

She also said with the contract set to expire at the end of August, she fully anticipates something to be in the proposed contract that would address this type of situation if the need were to occur again.

"I would anticipate a contract that has an additional rate scheduled that would reflect a decreased number of meals," she said. "I think that is why we haven't seen one yet. They (Canteen) are looking for what the price break should be."

The Wexford County Finance and Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Commissioners Room on the third floor of the Wexford County Courthouse, 437 E. Division St. 

Cadillac News