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Driver center steers to city
Cumming would put new facility at Exit 16
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Forsyth County News

If at first you don't succeed, ask the city of Cumming.

At least, that's what District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy did after Forsyth County commissioners reneged on a deal to build a new facility for the Department of Driver Services.

The city delivered the response Murphy sought -- a unanimous vote to have the city's lawyers craft an agreement with the state for a site on Pilgrim Mill Road at Exit 16 off Ga. 400.

"I for one, would like to see it right here in Cumming," said Mayor H. Ford Gravitt. "It's a critical need for the citizens in Cumming and Forsyth County and surrounding areas.

"Certainly, we want to see what we can do to expedite things."

The structure would replace the existing and cramped facility, which shares space with Georgia State Patrol Post 37 on County Way in north Forsyth.

Murphy, a Republican from Cumming, has spent four years trying to forge a deal. He led the push for legislation last year that helped the county create a Public Facilities Authority, which could have provided funding to build a new 8,500-square-foot facility across from the current site.

The same $150,000 for the first year's lease from the state has been sitting idle for a year, Murphy said.

But the county backed down, citing concerns over the state's ability to ensure a steady revenue stream beyond the first year, leaving the county without a return on its investment.

"We were going to finance it with the Public Facilities Authority, but the PFA says we have to have a guaranteed revenue stream sufficient to cover it. It wasn't enough of a guarantee," said Charles Laughinghouse, chairman of the Forsyth County commission.

Laughinghouse said a Cumming investment in the facility is "fine," adding that the city "can have that."

Murphy carried through on his promise last month to the commission to take the project elsewhere.

Pitching the plan at Tuesday's Cumming City Council meeting, he said officials would "like to move forward with it."

"It's something the governor would like to have ... it's something the citizens of the county need," Murphy said.

There are about 35 similar driver facilities statewide, all under leases, and none with any difficulty paying them, he said.

Murphy didn't have specific figures, but estimated the city's investment would be less than $1 million, which would be repaid by the state's lease within seven years.

It also would be at the center of a future hot spot, which is slated to include the city's aquatic center, a National Guard armory and a Cumming campus of North Georgia College & State University.

Waymond Henry, DDS facilities management director, spoke to the mayor and council about plans for the building, which would offer written testing, driving testing and testing for commercial driver's licenses.

The city agreed to look for ways to fund the building. Gravitt asked for specific numbers on the potential investment before a vote on the city budget Jan. 20.

"We want to expedite this," Gravitt told Murphy. "We'll do everything we can."

* In other business Tuesday night, the city council approved writing a right of way ordinance for cable service providers in light of the city's contract renewal with Comcast.

State law was recently changed to give cable service providers the freedom to operate with only a state license, instead of having to work with local municipalities.

Comcast chose to continue working with the city for the next five years, but other potential cable providers may not offer the same deal.

The ordinance, which will be ready by January's council meeting, would ensure all companies are held to the same restrictions as Comcast. 

Staff Writer Frank Reddy contributed to this article.