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County boosts pay for child guardians, approves audit of local hotels/motels

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Commissioners also extended Safari Hospitality's contract to manage the Forum River Center and agreed to audit the collection of local hotel/motel taxes.

Starting salary for a guardian ad litem went to $55,000 from $45,000, after Judge Greg Price said he can't keep his two positions filled. State law requires they be bar-certified attorneys and starting pay in the Atlanta metro area ranges from $49,000 to $159,000 a year.

"They work hard while they're here, but they're constantly looking for another job," County Manager Jamie McCord told the board.

Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace asked for a study on the possibility of a further increase or longevity bonuses but Price "needs something now," she said.

"We thought there might be some retired attorneys or judges to do this, but the pay is just too low," Wallace added.

Displacement and the travel time is a major issue, McCord explained.

Each child in foster care must get at least two face-to-face visits a year with a guardian ad litem. However, Floyd County Juvenile Court oversees more than 300 local children and, due to the shortage of foster parents, as many as a quarter of them are sent to live outside the county.

"If the kids were all placed in Floyd County it could be OK, but they're spread out all over the state," McCord said.

Board members planned to talk with the state legislative delegation about loosening the requirement to perform guardian ad litem duties. Commissioner Allison Watters said that volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates "from all walks of life" already undergo extensive training to assist abused and neglected children.

"Even a social worker might be a better choice," Commissioner Wright Bagby added.

Commissioners also approved an audit of local hotels and other establishments that are — or should be — collecting hotel/motel taxes.

"Like Airbnbs," McCord said. "Some of those people don't even know they have to, but it's state law. It's an occupancy thing."

The board also agreed to a 12-month extension of the contract with Safari Hospitality to manage the Forum. McCord said the facility has been closed for remodeling during part of the original contract and "I'd like to see them have the opportunity to operate with the Marriott open."

The Courtyard by Marriott, slated to open later this month across the river on West Third Street, is expected to draw a variety of conventions and conferences that could use the Forum. Bagby said the link from the hotel to the levee and Chief John Ross Memorial Pedestrian Bridge is key to a successful partnership.

"I feel very strongly that they shouldn't get a (certificate of occupancy) without that," Bagby said about the hotel.