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