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County to start work on morgue on Mathis Road

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Crews will start converting the old animal shelter into Floyd County’s first morgue, following the informal approval of elected officials Tuesday.

“If we had a coroner who wasn’t a funeral director, we’d have had to build one already,” County Manager Jamie McCord said.

Bodies awaiting identification or transfer are held at Floyd Medical Center or at Coroner Barry Henderson’s funeral home. However, officials at the city/county Joint Services Committee meeting noted that FMC’s morgue is at capacity.

“The hospital might keep them longer, if they’re trying to find their family or someone to claim them,” County Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace explained.

The county has already purchased a cooler to store up to six bodies, and workers have gutted and cleaned the old shelter on Mathis Road. Plans are to add a viewing room for families and two administrative offices. McCord said autopsies would still be performed at the GBI Crime Lab.

Under a 1988 agreement, the 2-acre tract reverted to city control when the new animal shelter opened on North Avenue. The Rome City and Floyd County commissions are expected to finalize within a month a revised agreement that allows the county to run a morgue there.

“It’s a good use of the space, and I can’t see anything else going there,” McCord said. “The location’s a little far from town, but everything else is perfect.”

The Joint Services Committee typically meets quarterly to hash out shared projects and activities. It’s made up of the Rome mayor and a city commissioner, the county commission chair and a county commissioner, the city and county managers and their assistant managers.

Fire, police

Also on Tuesday, elected officials got their first look at a draft fire services agreement that spells out how the governments will run the Rome-Floyd Fire Department.

The last contract expired in 2004, but officials agreed informally to continue operating under its provisions, which call for them to split the cost. City Manager Sammy Rich said the new agreement is essentially an update, with few changes.

“This is an area that’s not broken; it doesn’t need fixing,” he said.

The new document recognizes a 2015 fire insurance rating improvement — to ISO Class 2 — covering both Rome and the unincorporated area. It also adds a 2017 state law that requires departments to provide cancer insurance for firefighters.

An old section that specified how the stations and equipment would be divided up if officials wanted to dissolve the joint agency, however, drew protests from Wallace and Mayor Jamie Doss.

“We’ve evolved too far to ever go back,” Doss said.

The provision will be removed from the 10-year agreement expected to go to both boards next week.

Doss also raised the issue of forming a task force to study potential “efficiencies and savings” from a merger of the city and county police departments. While the other commissioners agreed on the goal, they instead directed McCord and Rich to look into ways the separate agencies might help each other.

Wallace said Rome Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney and County Police Chief Bill Shiflett work well together, and the two meet regularly to discuss operations. “I’d love for it to be more efficient, if possible, but a task force would give the wrong impression,” she said.