Taxpayers may have to pay to move some DMV workers to Rocky Mount. Nobody knows how much.

About 100 employees at the Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters in Raleigh would qualify for financial help from the state in moving to a new home if the DMV relocates to Rocky Mount, according to N.C. Department of Transportation.

The DMV has determined that those 100 employees — about 23 percent of the total affected by the move — would have to drive 50 miles or more from their homes to the office the agency plans to lease in Rocky Mount starting in 2020. Under state policy, the assistance includes paid time off from work to look for a place to live and financial assistance with mileage, meals and moving expenses.

The remaining employees affected by DMV’s relocation to Rocky Mount would not qualify for help moving, though Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon told the Council of State on Monday that the DMV may seek to expand the qualifications so that another 145 workers could get assistance.

The DMV is in the early stages of determining what the move to Rocky Mount would cost the state and its employees, beyond the monthly rent. NCDOT officials have said they felt obligated to choose the Rocky Mount location because it met the DMV’s criteria for space and cost less than the other 11 lease proposals it received.

But the DMV has not determined how many employees would move with the agency to Rocky Mount and how many might leave or retire and need to be replaced, DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup said Tuesday.

“I think that will be more clear once we know where we’re actually going and we’re able to survey our employees to determine what their intentions might be,” Jessup told the House Appropriations Committee for Transportation. “We know that we’re going to have some attrition.”

DMV will need the legislature to provide rent money, which would average $2,053,635 over the 15 years of the lease. But Rep. Grier Martin, an appropriations committee member from Wake County who last week signed a letter opposing the move, told Jessup on Tuesday that rent was only part of what the relocation will ultimately cost DMV.

“I’m concerned that what I hear is that we’re going to make a decision on where we’re going and only then will we be able to calculate the final costs to the taxpayers of North Carolina of that decision,” Martin said.

The Council of State, a board consisting of the governor and nine other state officials elected to statewide office, put off a decision on the Rocky Mount lease last week, so members could learn more about it. In addition to its other tasks, the council approves all sales, leases and purchases of state property. It will take up the lease at its meeting in March.

Trogdon spoke to council members on Monday via a conference call to explain how the move came about and answer questions. He told them that DMV needs the council to approve the lease, and the legislature to approve the rent money, this year so that it can meet a deadline of leaving the complex on New Bern Avenue by the fall of 2020.

The DMV’s buildings on New Bern Avenue have problems with asbestos and fire safety that the State Construction Office and the Department of Insurance determined were too expensive to fix. In exchange for some minor changes, the agencies agreed to let the DMV stay until Nov. 18, 2020.

The General Assembly pressed the issue last year when the state budget included an item directing DMV to vacate its offices by Oct. 1, 2020, and seek proposals to lease new offices in Wake or surrounding counties. Nash County, where the Rocky Mount site is located, just qualifies because it touches Wake near Zebulon.

The new office would be an hour’s drive east of the current one. Other possible measures NCDOT could take to help relocated DMV employees include working with GoTriangle to establish bus service between Raleigh and the new office in Rocky Mount, Jessup said.

But Nicole Hunter, a 10-year DMV employee who lives in Raleigh and works on the driver’s license help desk, said the longer commute time will take away from family time and will cost more in gas.

“It’s a severe economic impact on those of us who are doing what we’re supposed to do, which is taking care of community and family,” Hunter told the committee.

Rep. John Torbett, a chairman of the House appropriations transportation committee, asked what the legislature would have to do to allow DMV to consider buying the property in Rocky Mount. Torbett noted that the property tax value is about $4.5 million and that the state will have spent nearly that much to lease it for only two years.

“It seems like the people of North Carolina would get a bigger bang for the buck if they went into an acquisition,” he said.

Rep. Shelly Willingham, who lives in Rocky Mount, replied that legislators could approve the lease this year, then worry about whether DMV should try to buy the property in the future.

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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.