ABL Management

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ABL keeps commissary in contract

By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors have accepted a bid from ABL Management, Inc. for feeding inmates at the Panola County jail and operating the new jail commissary.

ABL is the current contract holder. The county board voted unanimously July 24 to sign a second one-year contract with ABL when supervisors convened for a recessed meeting in Batesville.

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The board’s decision came a week after Chief Deputy Chris Franklin asked supervisors to award the commissary bid to Reed Buntin, citing Buntin’s better bid for commissary commission.

ABL beat Buntin and other bidders with a per-meal price of $1.0029, with CBL coming in second with a bid of $1.11 per meal. Buntin was third with a bid of $1.15 per meal.

Buntin submitted the highest commissary bid, 45 percent, which is the sheriff’s department’s share of sales of toiletries and snacks to inmates.

ABL is currently giving the department 40 percent of its sales and bid 40 percent for the new contract.

Franklin told supervisors at a July 19 recessed meeting that the sheriff’s department is using the proceeds from the commissary to offset taxpayers’ costs for clothing and other needs for jail inmates.

Panola County Administrator Kelley Magee was keeping a doctor’s appointment at the July 19 meeting, though supervisors recalled in her absence that the published bid request stipulated a bid for both services.

Magee was present at this week’s meeting, where she reiterated that stipulation. Then supervisors voted without comment to award the bid to ABL as Franklin and Sheriff Dennis Darby watched the vote.

Reached after the meeting, Magee again said the bid advertisement stipulated a bid for both services — inmate meals and operating the commissary.

Both services were combined to encourage a lower bid, which saves the county money, she said.

“We had several vendors call wanting to bid on one or the other, and they were told it was a package deal,” Magee told The Panolian.

Magee said she compared the new bid figures with ABL’s current charge of $1.18 per meals. When she compared ABL’s $1 bid with the approximate 111,000 meals served to inmates annually, Panola County government is poised to save approximately $20,000 under the new contract.

She said Buntin’s higher commissary bid could increase the sheriff’s department’s commission by approximately $5,000, though the county would lose money over ABL due to his higher bid for meals.

“The sheriff gets a bit more money from the commissary but the taxpayers’ pay more for meals,” Magee said.

Magee has butted heads with the sheriff’s department in the past over ideas for trimming its budget but said she was not pressured to support Buntin, who was an active supporter of then-candidate Darby last year.

“It was only a suggestion,” Darby said of the idea to split the bids. “We were trying to benefit the sheriff’s department.”

The bid advertisement for meals and commissary was “simple – cut and dry,” said Board of Supervisors president Kelly Morris.

“The specs said everything was tied together and we take the lowest bid,” Morris added. “If you don’t meet the specs, you don’t get to win the bid.”