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Regional jails food contract under dispute

By Eric Eyre, Staff writer

The low bidder on a $4 million-a-year contract to feed more than 4,800 inmates in West Virginia’s 10 regional jails has filed a protest, alleging that the company’s proposal was unfairly disqualified.

A’viands, a Minnesota-based food service management firm that submitted the lowest bid last month, might have a valid complaint, state Regional Jail Authority Executive Director Joe Delong indicated Friday. But DeLong won’t decide on the matter until next week.

“We take their protest very seriously,” DeLong said. “I want the lowest-cost vendor who meets the requirements of the bid and who can deliver the service and do the work.”

A’viands bid $4.3 million a year for the regional jails food service contract, $100,000 less than Tampa, Florida-based Trinity Service Group, and $400,000 less than Aramark, a Philadelphia firm that has been serving food to West Virginia regional jails inmates for years.

A food service contract review committee rejected A’viands bid, citing “material issues,” DeLong said.

“The committee said there were some things that A’viands put in the bid that did not meet the requirements of the contract,” he said.

DeLong said he is reviewing A’viand’s protest and hopes to decide on the matter by the end of the week. The jail authority’s board members will have the final say.

“A’viands says they shouldn’t have been disqualified,” DeLong said. “Even though some of their stuff didn’t specifically meet the bid requirements, they said in other parts of the bid, ‘We’ll meet any requirement you want us to meet.’ ”

There’s a curveball that’s complicating DeLong’s review.

The Regional Jails Authority shares the Northern Regional Jail with the West Virginia Division of Corrections, which houses longer-term prisoners and reimburses the authority for inmate meals. The corrections division must follow state Purchasing Division regulations, while the regional jails are exempt, DeLong said.

Corrections officials have contacted DeLong about whether the food service agreement between the two state agencies is legal or not.

“So, by us doing the food contract, then billing them for their portion of it under a memorandum of understanding, we’re actually on the edge of perhaps violating purchasing laws because Corrections is required to bid that stuff through [state] Purchasing,” DeLong said.

If the corrections division takes over the food service contract at the Northern Regional Jail, the Regional Jails Authority likely would have to re-bid the entire statewide food service contract — expected to last up to four years.

“We’ll respond to A’viands protest in the very near future, but the whole thing might prove moot,” DeLong said. “We’d be taking a whole facility out of what we already bid.”

Aramark’s contract expired, so the Regional Jails Authority awarded an emergency food service contract to Trinity Service Group, the second-lowest bidder.

The new contract, which costs the state an extra five cents per meal, requires the vendor to provide increased staffing, serve higher-quality food and improve equipment maintenance.

A’viands did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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