That sound from next door has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of false teeth. The good folks at Augusta's Senior Center are highly upset these days because the CSRA Regional Development Center abruptly dropped the Senior Center last month as the provider for meals in senior citizen programs.
It's a cost issue, the RDC says; a new contractor, Florida-based G.A. Food Services, can cook the food at lower cost than the $4.63 per meal the Senior Center would charge. The fear from the Senior Center -- much justified -- is that the move will put a lot of Augusta people out of work, and cost the Senior Center a vital source of revenue that it uses to fund programs all around the area.
All the consternation, we might add, will save the RDC just a measly nickel per plate. It hardly seems worth the effort.
Is there a better way? Yep, and as is often the case, Columbia County is demonstrating it.
As noted last week in a story by News-Times writer Donnie Fetter, three years ago Columbia County officials became increasingly concerned about the rising cost of meals provided by the Senior Center. In a novel form of "privatization," the staff at the county's Detention Center analyzed the needs of Columbia County's senior program and made a bid to cook the meals in the jail kitchen at just under $2 each -- less than half what the Senior Center was charging.
And the food is better, too; Columbia County's inmates may be prone to complain, as all jailbirds are, but the quality of food certainly isn't one of their problems. Those jail ladies can flat cook.
Columbia County's seniors attest to it. "Oh, the meals are much better than we were getting before," says 75-year-old Gene Thomas of Grovetown.
So, it's less expensive than even the private company the RDC is hiring, and the quality is better than what the county got before from the agency the RDC is replacing. That's a good deal for Columbia County's customers, and a great deal for our taxpayers.
This isn't the first time a Columbia County agency stepped up to out-compete a challenge from private industry, either. A few years ago, when a scandal led Richmond County to outsource its vehicle repairs, some Columbia County officials thought the same thing would work here. The workers in the county shop knew better; they put together a package to demonstrate the money the county saves with a well-run shop. In the end, they were able to do a better job and save taxpayers money.
Bureaucracies naturally accumulate fat as they move along unchallenged, like a snowball gets bigger as it rolls downhill. Government operations benefit from experiences that force them to show taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.
We don't know how well that process is working next door. But the best evidence says Columbia County taxpayers are getting a pretty good deal.
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