NORWICH – Rumors have long flown that Chenango County’s public safety employees have been eating meals served in the jail’s kitchen for free, or rather, on the taxpayer’s dime.
Chenango County Personnel Committee Chairman Wayne Outwater, R-Lincklaen, who has presided over the committee for many of his 16 years as supervisor, said recently that he had heard such rumors, too, but didn’t know whether or not they were true.
A couple of anonymous letters to The Evening Sun this winter asked us to investigate whether free meals were being served to employees, and if so, how often and how much money might be saved if the practice were discontinued. Because the county’s elected officials are looking for savings under every crevice within departments and programs in order to combat rising pension and health care costs, we thought we’d take a look.
The rumors are true. But it’s not only Chenango County’s taxpayers who are paying for free lunches – or dinners or breakfasts, as the case may be, depending upon a person’s shift. When the new Public Safety Facility opened on Upper Ravine Road in the Town of Norwich four years ago, it absorbed the Area Agency On Aging’s former kitchen facility and inherited a valuable funding stream for nutritional services from the New York State Office for the Aging.
Therefore, based on details from county’s agency for seniors and the Sheriff’s Office, state and county taxpayer dollars are on track to be tapped this year for about $33,000 to feed the corrections officers, sheriff’s deputies, emergency management services and dispatcher personnel and medical, kitchen and maintenance staff who make up the 114 employed at the Public Safety Facility.
Counts from Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting and a Public Safety Facility employee speaking on condition of anonymity reported that between 40 and 50 percent of the 81 employees working three shifts around the clock, 365 days a year, eat at least one daily meal at the jail for free.