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Floyd County Commission backs cremation for unclaimed bodies

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Floyd County commissioners indicated support Tuesday for allowing the bodies of unclaimed paupers to be cremated instead of buried.

“We’re behind you,” Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace told Coroner Gene Proctor. “We want to make this as easy a process as possible.”

The change would solve several problems, ranging from rising costs to storage and cemetery space. Proctor said the county averages 40 indigent burials a year — up from about 30 when mentally ill patients were housed in the state’s now-closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital. “They’re getting aged now,” he said. “We find them in the streets and, often, they’ve had no contact with their families for years.”

Proctor said he spends at least 15 days trying to locate family members, then he runs a public notice for two weeks before signing off on a burial. The county’s first morgue, under construction in the old animal shelter on Mathis Road, will have room to store six bodies. In the meantime, they’re held in the morgues of local hospitals and space is at a premium.

“There’s been a lot of controversy back and forth … but the hospitals are a lot more receptive now that we’ve started on our morgue,” Proctor said. “We’ve done this on a shoestring budget, and we’re going to have one of the nicest morgues in the state.”

He’s handled six unclaimed bodies since July 1, he told the board during its caucus session, and he managed to track down extended family of just two.

Rome’s cemetery crews bury paupers in space the county has purchased. Proctor said it’s expected to be full in about five or six years, but cremation would extend that time to 30 or 35 years.

Also, cremains kept above-ground, in labeled boxes, could be turned over to family members who belatedly locate a lost loved one. “It’s much more humane,” he said. “One we interred a few months ago, his sister called yesterday from Dearborn, Michigan.”

Most of the local clergy “have zero issues” with cremation, Proctor said, and all the local funeral homes perform the service. Several, however, refuse to handle indigent burials because the fee is too low.

The county pays a flat $750 per body. County Manager Jamie McCord said that falls in the middle of the $600 to $850 allocated by other Georgia counties.

Floyd County residents who can’t afford to bury a relative can apply to the Division of Family and Children Services office for the stipend. However, McCord said agency officials approached him a few months ago, saying they need more than the county is budgeting.

“DFCS says (allowing cremation) would relieve their funding issue,” McCord said.

Commissioners asked County Attorney Wade Hoyt to draw up an ordinance amendment to make the change.

Floyd County Employee Recognitions

The Floyd County Commission awarded service pins Tuesday to the following long-time employees:

At Least 35 Years of Service

Vicki Parton, Clerk of Superior Court’s office, 39 years

Faye Franklin, Superior Court, 35 years

At Least 25 Years of Service

Diane Minter, Clerk of Superior Court’s office, 29 years

Felica Mynes, Superior Court, 28 years

Jeff Hubbard, Solid Waste, 28 years

Shannon Boatner, Police, 27 years

Angie Grady, Water, 27 years

District Attorney Leigh Patterson, 27 years

Robert Couey, Magistrate Court, 26 years

Jennie Leonard, Finance, 25 years

Kenneth Whatley, Water, 25 years

Denton Wright, Public Works, 25 years

At least 20 Years of Service

Daniel Bridges, Public Works, 24 years

Todd Wofford, Parks & Recreation, 23 years

Eddie Watters, Public Works, 22 years

Vanessa Waddell, Elections, 21 years

Barry Jackson, Police, 20 years

Timothy Bennett, Public Works, 20 years

Stephen Pearson, Public Works, 20 years

At Least 15 Years of Service

Ted Bullock, Public Works, 19 years

Charles Wright, Juvenile Court, 19 years

Harold Goldin, District Attorney’s office, 19 years

Eric Sexton, Public Works, 19 years

Mitch Glass, Sheriff’s office, 18 years

John McClellan, District Attorney’s office, 18 years

Danny Bickers, Police, 17 years

Sommer Splendore, E-911, 17 years

Alicia Valdez, Probate Court, 16 years

Ned Shope, Airport, 15 years

Mary Beth Gregoire, District Attorney’s office, 15 years

Source: Floyd County Clerk’s office