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Oldsmar company opts out of prison food service

Citing skyrocketing food costs, an Oldsmar company that provides meals to Florida prison inmates has told the state it wants to quit.

Trinity Services Group is the second food services company to tell the Department of Corrections it can't afford to keep feeding prisoners. The company said it's losing $100,000 a month on its contract to feed inmates in the north-central part of the state and at three prisons in South Florida.

The company, which was paid $21-million last fiscal year, said it's losing money because food and fuel costs are rising at the rate of 9 percent, far in excess of the 2 percent inflation cushion allowed in its state contract. Trinity is paid 88 cents for every meal served.

"It's put us in the position of losing a lot of money," Trinity president John Varnado said. "I like doing business with the state, but it has to be at a number where I can make a living."

However, the company is bidding on a new food contract in hopes of securing more favorable terms from the state.

Trinity joins Aramark, which last week told the state it will terminate its contract in January 2009. Unless the state can negotiate new deals, it will have to create its own food service system in a few months, at a time when the agency is struggling due to budget cuts.

"It would be futile, and it would cost them a ton of money," Varnado said.

Prison officials have declined to comment on the vendors' withdrawals, saying they are precluded from doing so until the bidding period closes on Sept. 24.

Trinity employs about 230 full-time employees in Florida. Most will be offered jobs elsewhere if the company parts ways with the state.

With more than 92,000 inmates, Florida has the nation's third-largest prison system. Seven years ago, then-Gov. Jeb Bush shifted the food service operations to private companies in hopes of saving money.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at sbousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Oldsmar company opts out of prison food service 09/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 8:22pm]
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