NC leaders give themselves another month to decide whether DMV should move to Rocky Mount

NC DMV headquarters plans to leave Raleigh for Rocky Mount

The North Carolina state Division of Motor Vehicles plans to move hundreds of workers and its headquarters from its long-time home on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh to Rocky Mount.
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The North Carolina state Division of Motor Vehicles plans to move hundreds of workers and its headquarters from its long-time home on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh to Rocky Mount.

The decision about whether the state Division of Motor Vehicles should move its headquarters to Rocky Mount has been delayed for a month.

The Council of State agreed Tuesday to put off a vote on whether to approve a 15-year lease for the DMV in the former Hardee’s headquarters on the north side of Rocky Mount. Gov. Roy Cooper asked for the extra time so members of the council can get answers to questions raised about the move’s impact on the agency and its employees.

Cooper said he would have Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon get in touch with council members to provide basic information about the move and answer questions. He also encouraged his colleagues to make their own inquiries.

“Part of that base of knowledge is your responsibility as a council member,” Cooper said. “You’re going to reach out to the parties and do some research yourself on what you think they ought to do.”

The Council of State consists of the governor and the nine other state officials elected to statewide office, including the secretaries of agriculture, education and insurance. In addition to its other duties, the council approves sales, purchases and leases of state property.

The DMV must leave its complex on New Bern Avenue by the fall of 2020, because of asbestos and safety problems with the buildings. Last summer, the agency sought proposals from real estate brokers and developers for leased office space in Wake and surrounding counties and received a dozen offers at nine sites — all but one in Wake or Research Triangle Park.

The Rocky Mount site met the DMV’s needs for office space at the lowest rent — an average of $2,053,635 a year for the first 15 years. NCDOT officials have said they are obligated under state law to go with the lowest qualifying bid.

Steve Stroud, the broker with NAI Carolantic Realty that represents the owners of the former Hardee’s site, said they were disappointed with the council’s delay.

“Rocky Mount is absolutely a good fit for this project,” Stroud said afterward. “And it’s been properly vetted.”

But the State Employees Association of North Carolina and all 16 Wake County legislators say the focus on the rent leaves out other costs to the agency and employees. Some workers say they will not move to Rocky Mount, forcing the DMV to find and train replacements. And other employees say keeping their jobs will mean a longer daily commute and less time with family.

“They aren’t taking into account people who are taking care of other family members,” said Nicole Hunter, a 10-year DMV employee who works on the driver’s license help desk.

Hunter lives in Raleigh. Like the majority of workers at DMV’s headquarters, she would drive an hour or more each way to get to work if the agency moves. Robert Broome, the executive director of the state employees association said the move imposes too many costs on employees.

“When companies relocate, they generally don’t leave their employees to twist in the wind,” Broome said at a forum for DMV employees the association held Monday evening.

But Stroud said DMV employees who move to Rocky Mount will find cheaper housing, a large recreational sports complex across from their offices and a city that is poised to rebound, with projects such as Rocky Mount Mills, a former cotton mill being redeveloped into office space, homes, restaurants and breweries. And he disagrees that some workers aren’t harmed when an employer uproots.

“Anytime you move a business, somebody’s going to be disadvantaged,” he said.

About 440 people work at the DMV headquarters now, not including dozens of vacant positions, said NCDOT spokesman Jamie Kritzer. The move does not include the license plate agency that operates in the ground floor of one of the buildings; it will remain somewhere in the Raleigh area.

DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup will meet with employees Wednesday afternoon to answer questions about the move and explain what’s to come. In a memo to headquarters employees on Monday, Jessup said he had heard from many of them that they’d prefer to remain near the current buildings and explained why that is not possible.

“We face an imminent move that will be challenging,” he wrote. “I ask everyone for your understanding and commitment to do what is necessary to prepare for the road ahead.”

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.