Wake lawmakers ready to fight DMV headquarters move

February 5, 2019

Wake County lawmakers said Tuesday that they will block funding to pay for moving the Division of Motor Vehicles’ main office from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.

The 2018 state budget included a provision requiring the DMV to move from its offices on New Bern Avenue, east of downtown Raleigh, by October 2020 because of safety concerns in that building, including asbestos.

The DMV asked for bids in Wake County and surrounding counties, and the lowest bid received was for a building on North Church Street in Rocky Mount that once housed the headquarters of the Hardee’s fast-food chain – nearly an hour away.

The Rocky Mount site would cost the state $2.4 million a year to operate, according to state records, and state law requires DMV to recommend the lowest bid.

Most of the 600 people who work at the DMV headquarters live in Wake County, and many have said they cannot afford the time and expense of a lengthy daily commute.

The Council of State, a collection of statewide elected officials including Gov. Roy Cooper, was scheduled to vote on accepting the Rocky Mount bid at its monthly meeting Tuesday morning, but Cooper asked that the item be removed from the agenda so officials could have more time to discuss the impact of the move.

“There was some concern among Council of State members about state employees and about whether enough provisions had been made for current state employees at the DMV and whether there was a plan going forward for the building,” the governor said.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina is lobbying council members to reject the Rocky Mount proposal, and all 16 House and Senate members from Wake County sent a letter Monday to the council calling for a new bid process that takes into account more than just the cost of renting office space.

“As representatives of Wake County, we will do all we can in the Legislature to ensure that this current proposal is not approved,” the letter states.

Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, said the lawmakers will use their budgetary power if needed.

“The money to actually make the move – we would like to see if we could get that changed. That’s the legislative action we’re talking about,” Holley said. “We need to go back to some of those [bidding] methods instead of always going for the cheap, because sometimes the cheap really costs more in the long run and sometimes it’s a human [cost] – at the cost of the employees.”

Instead of spending millions on a long-term lease, she said, the state could demolish the unsafe building and rebuild it on the New Bern Avenue site, which the state already owns. That wasn’t presented as an option for DMV, but she said the offices in east Raleigh are a big economic driver for an otherwise disadvantaged neighborhood.

Cooper defended the DMV’s recommended bid, pointing out that lawmakers required them to consider sites in counties that border Wake County.

“I think that you needed to follow the law, what the legislature told you to do,” he said.

Rocky Mount is Cooper’s hometown, and many people there see the DMV relocation as a win for rural economic development – one of his priorities.

“I think now, at this time when we use technology more and different modes of communication, that’s certainly something hat state government can look at – whether there are other places in the state that state offices can be located,” he said.

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