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Hopes for driver services facility stall
County, state spar over lease
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Forsyth County News

When Forsyth County commissioners signed off on an agreement to build a new facility for the Department of Driver Services in May, they thought they had a deal.

The project called for the state department to lease the proposed 8,000-square-foot building for 20 years, and the county would come up with the money to build it.

At Tuesday's work session, however, the board got first glance at a revised version of the agreement the department sent back with alterations so "significant" they could jeopardize the arrangement.

"I wish we had a deal," said County Attorney Ken Jarrard, who continues to negotiate with the department. "I wish this was done, but it's not."

Jarrard said the chief issue is the department's unwillingness "to commit to us that they will in fact pay this lease."

He said the department's version of the agreement says that if the state funds "appropriated to DDS are insufficient to fulfill the lease obligation, then they can terminate the agreement."

Those words did not sit well with commissioners.

"We're just not going to build it," said Commissioner Jim Harrell. "If there's no guarantee of payment, I don't see doing it at all. I don't want to have to be their landlord."

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse agreed.

"That was the whole rationale behind doing this," he said.

Jarrard said that in the past, when the county has shown reluctance to go into business with the department, "They come back and say other counties give this to them for free because these buildings are 'economic draws.'"

Laughinghouse found that notion laughable.

"Like all those people that are coming up here to get their driver's license are going to stop and shop and eat," he said. "All they really want do is get in, get out and go home."

Commissioner David Richard said the county was "kind enough to allow it to be here, and by God, they better produce some funds. That's a deal breaker for me."

Jarrard said funding is the chief concern, because the money to build the facility was slated to come from the county's

Public Facilities Authority, which can provide revenue for these type projects.

But funding is provided only when there is a revenue stream, such as the monthly amount paid by the Department of Driver Services to use the building. The site is on County Way across from the existing building shared with Georgia State Patrol Post 37.

"We could issue a bond by way of our (Public Facilities Authority)," Jarrard said. "And in year two a budget shortfall occurs in the state and the budget doesn't pay the DDS rent obligation for this facility. They say, 'We're done, can't afford it.'"

Jarrard said he has "tried every way in the world to articulate this concern" to the department. Commissioners directed him to meet with the department's attorney to address concerns.

Last month, commissioners voted 5-0 to hire JKH Architects to provide design and construction documents for the facility. The bid totaled $80,055.

"The client has refused to accept the agreement," Laughinghouse said. "We're going to have to start over again."