State Department of Corrections' officials expect to renew a $12 million food service contract with Aramark Correctional Services, even though a recent audit found the state was overpaying and questioned whether the company was meeting its obligations.
In October, state Auditor Crit Luallen identified more than $36,000 in overpayments to Aramark because of billing errors and non-compliance with contract provisions, and said the total overpayments could exceed $130,000.
Auditors found instances when ingredients such as pasta, rice, potatoes and beans "were dramatically reduced or omitted," and Luallen questioned whether taxpayers were getting their money's worth.
Justice Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said in an e-mail that the Department of Corrections expects to renew the contract in January.
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However, State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, has pre-filed a bill for the 2011 General Assembly that would cancel the contract, which expires Jan. 4.
The bill calls for existing private contracts, including Aramark's, to be canceled unless they were previously authorized by statute.
"My opinion is that this contract should not be renewed," Yonts said in an interview.
Some private contracts are automatically authorized by statute. For others, Yonts' legislation would require a state agency to propose the contract to the Finance and Administration Cabinet, which would send it to the governor. The governor would have to propose it to the legislature, which would approve it before it could be authorized, Yonts said.
"Representative Yonts' bill is untenable," said Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear. "It would compromise the governor's ability to efficiently manage government."
Richardson said the corrections department is developing an action plan that will strengthen compliance and documentation for food preparation.
The initial Aramark contract ran from January 2005 until January 2009. The terms of the contract include three two-year renewals. The contract was renewed in 2009.
Aramark, based in Philadelphia, serves three meals each day at Kentucky's 13 state prisons.
Luallen has said that Aramark provides the necessary calories under federal guidelines, but "the way the contract is being implemented leaves questions about whether or not inmates are actually getting" the required food.
Aramark spokeswoman Kristine Grow defended the company Monday.
"We have a very strong record of providing state inmates with healthy and nutritious meals that meet or exceed all local, state and federal standards while saving the commonwealth and its taxpayers $5 million each year, or approximately $30 million over the term of our agreement," Grow said.
When Luallen released the audit, she asked the Department of Corrections and the Finance and Administration Cabinet to determine whether Aramark was in breach of the contract for failing to submit many financial documents she had requested for the audit.
Brislin said that meeting had not taken place but would be scheduled soon.
Members of House Judiciary Committee voted to end the contract during the 2010 session. The legislature did not take any further action on the contract during the session after Luallen initiated the audit.
But an interim joint judiciary committee has asked Luallen, officials from Aramark and the Department of Corrections to answer questions at a meeting Dec. 15.