By Tommy Mann Jr. – The Record

Jail inmates and staff will experience a slight increase in meals very soon.

Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt informed Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday afternoon that a small price increase will be forthcoming for meals served at the Orange County Correctional Facility. The reason for the price increase is due to the retirement of a county employee.

“We had an employee retire on January 31st, and part of our agreement with the food service provider is that if a county employee in the kitchen retired or left, they would be replaced by a Five Star employee,” Merritt explained. “So, the price will be adjusted accordingly.”

According to information provided by Merritt, Mrs. Beverly Stewart notified of her plans to retire effective January 31. She served as an Orange County Correctional Facility Cook II.

Orange County currently utlizes Five Star Correctional Services, which is a private food service designed for jails with inmate populations between 25 and 250 people. A registered dietitian ensures menus meet or exceed nutritional requirements with meals which are prepared from scratch. Also, Five Star staff directly supervise kitchen trustees to ensure food is properly and safely prepared, and inmates learn a trade which can be used following release.

Merritt stated the price increase will be 12-cents for inmates, trustees and staff. Meals, which are currently $1 per meal for inmates and staff, will increase to $1.12 per meal. Trustee meals will increase from $1.20 per meal to $1.32 per meal.

Despite the price increase in meals, the county will save money through the change.

According to Merritt, the Orange County Correctional Facility serves 182,865 inmate meal trays per year based on an average inmate population of 167. Increasing costs by 12-cents per meal would increase annual food service costs by an estimated $21,943.80. However, this cost would be offset by a savings of $43,831.56 following the employee’s retirement. Overall, the county would save $21,887.76 even with the increase.

“We are very pleased with the service Five Star has provided and it’s been a blessing to work with them,” Merritt added.

The price increase will not go into effect until the new Five Star Correctional Services employee is hired.

In other news, John Banken, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 3, spoke about the current hospital situation in Orange County.

“I’m deeply concerned, as are many of the constituents, about the hospital situation in Orange County,” Banken said. “It’s affecting our senior citizens more than anyone because they are having to go to Beaumont or Port Arthur and some of them can’t drive that far or in that kind of traffic.”

In 2015, Baptist Hospital Orange announced it would no longer serve as an in-patient care facility, but it would still provide many of its key services.

Meetings were held about what options the county might have in bringing a new hospital to the county but things have been very quiet for several months now.

Banken stated he would like for Commissioners to get an update on where things stand and to hold some sort of public discussion for informational purposes.

Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt stated it has become “an issue” for the sheriff’s office as well because of the amount of time employees are spending in transporting prisoners to and from medical care facilities in Beaumont or Port Arthur, when the proper care is not available in Orange.

“It’s costing us a little more in expenses to go to Port Arthur or Beaumont,” Merritt said. “It’s a half-day process at minimum when we have to do that as well.”

Mayor Robert Viator of Vidor was in attendance and said he had been privy to some earlier discussions of a possible county hospital and knew the person who owned the Cleveland Hospital. He volunteered to see if he could help arrange some potential meetings and discussions between both sides if desired.

No formal action was taken because these discussions were held during the open session of Commissioners Court and not directly placed on Tuesday’s agenda.

The next meeting of Orange County Commissioners Court will be held at 2 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Vidor City Hall, 1395 N. Main St. in Vidor.