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DMV relocation approved

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Traffic flows on North Church Street in front of the six-story building that at one time was the headquarters of Hardee's Food Systems.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A proposal was approved Tuesday for Rocky Mount to be the future headquarters of the state Division of Motor Vehicles, prompting reactions of elation from key officials in the Twin Counties.

“I think it’s exciting news for Rocky Mount,” Mayor David Combs said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the state also to invest in eastern North Carolina.

“For Rocky Mount, it’s a great shot in the arm right now.”

The Council of State, meeting on Tuesday morning, voted 10-0 in favor of the state Department of Transportation’s proposal to shift the DMV headquarters from North Carolina’s capital city.

The proposal calls for the headquarters to be relocated from New Bern Avenue in Raleigh to the former Hardee’s Food Systems building off North Church Street just north of U.S. 64.

“I think a lot of people have been on the edge of their chair waiting to find out what was going to happen. I think it was a great commitment,” Combs said. “I think (the unanimous vote) also says something about the support for relocating it from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.”

The General Assembly still is going to have to sign off on funding for the proposal and an effort is afoot to tinker with the plan.

The Council of State is comprised of the top state officers, including Gov. Roy Cooper, and has the power to make decisions about state purchases of properties.

Cooper told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting he believes the move is a good one.

“I think we’re being wise using taxpayer dollars,” Cooper was quoted as saying.

Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce President David Farris, en route back from Raleigh, said the Council of State meeting was called to order at 9 a.m. and adjourned shortly after a half-hour session.

Farris said there was no discussion among the Council of State members about the proposal, noting, “It was almost anti-climactic.”

Farris emphasized this is probably the first time in modern North Carolina history, certainly since North Carolina’s government has been in Raleigh, that a division the size and importance of DMV is going to be relocated outside the capital city.

“So this is indeed historic,” Farris said. “And we are excited about it. And we are pledging to make the transition from DMV and its staff to Rocky Mount over the next year as smooth as possible.”

Farris said he understands the anxiety of many DMV workers, who via news reports from Raleigh have expressed their concerns about having to make a long commute to Nash County.

News outlets are reporting the DMV surveyed employees last week and found of 255 who responded, 145 said they would leave the DMV, 48 said they would remain and 62 said they were uncertain.

Farris was quick to point out Rocky Mount’s experience with the aftermath of then-RBC Centura bank in 2005 announcing intentions to relocate principal offices from Rocky Mount to Raleigh and many bank workers having to begin commuting.

“We understand the concerns that (DMV workers) have because we’ve walked down that road as a community ourselves,” he said. “And driving into Raleigh is more difficult in the morning than driving into Rocky Mount. And some of them may decide to locate to Rocky Mount.

“They can buy a lot more house here than what they have in Raleigh for less money,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to welcome them.”

Additionally, he said he believes the deal is going to open the chance for the site of the present DMV headquarters to be redeveloped and provide Raleigh and Wake County with much property tax revenue.

“So it can be a win-win for both Rocky Mount and Raleigh and Wake County,” he said.

Carolinas Gateway President and CEO Norris Tolson, who’s the chief business and industrial recruiter in Edgecombe and Nash counties, said Tuesday he and his team are thrilled to welcome the DMV employees to Rocky Mount.

“We think it’s going to be a very good thing for them — and it’s certainly going to be a really good deal for everybody in the Twin Counties, including Rocky Mount,” Tolson said.

“And we’re going to make ‘em as welcome as we can possibly make ‘em here,” he said of the DMV employees. “And we think – all of us think – that they will really like what they find when they get here, not only our hospitality, but also a good place to live and work.”

The proposal was to be on the agenda of February’s Council of State meeting but was put on hold to allow more time to discuss the impact.

State transportation officials have made clear they believe the site in Rocky Mount meets the legal definition of the lowest competitive bid.

The proposal is a slightly more than $2 million a year lease for 15 years, with the deal to take effect at the start of January 2020.

The General Assembly required a process for relocating the DMV from the present headquarters in Raleigh because of health and safety issues beyond the state’s control.

The DMV must leave New Bern Avenue location by fall 2020.

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