Hopes of state funding for a new Department of Driver Services customer service center in Rome faded when Gov. Brian Kemp reached for his veto pen before signing the budget.
Georgia’s fiscal year 2020 budget had included financing for $720,000 worth of bonds to expand the 50-year-old county-owned complex at 3390 Martha Berry Highway.
But Kemp said in a statement that the DDS doesn’t have a plan in place to build a new center in Rome “and the facility was not included in the agency’s capital funding request. Therefore, I veto this authorization.”
The move came as a surprise Monday to County Manager Jamie McCord, who said DDS officials had been scheduled to come to Rome Wednesday to go over the plans. County crews built a carousel for Commercial Drivers License testing last year.
“The building’s too small and old, and they’ve added 10 CDL tests a day,” McCord said.
Draft plans called for expanding one building and adding another, along with 35 parking spaces. A preliminary budget put the cost at $1.2 million.
“That’s what we asked for,” McCord said. “But we had $95,000 left over from the CDL project. We were going to put that together with the $720,000 and do some site work in-house to make it work.”
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said Kemp gave no indication he was considering a veto so local lawmakers had no opportunity to respond.
He noted that the Senate had put in $600,000 and the House raised the amount to $720,000, so both chambers supported the project.
“Apparently DDS had higher priorities ... At this point, we will continue with the current building until the next budget,” Hufstetler said.
Improvements have been on the table for some time. Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, said he had several conversations with House leaders, “so I was a bit surprised” at the veto.
Lumsden said there were discussions about the aging facility when he served on the Floyd County Commission from 2007 to 2011 – and before that, when Hufstetler chaired the board.
“I remember I approached him with some ideas as a private citizen,” the retired Georgia State Patrol trooper said. “We got some funds then, so there have been upgrades over the years. We’ll continue to work with the budget process and, hopefully, get it funded the next go-round.”
Kemp vetoed funding for four other initiatives and issued statements on 16 other projects saying agencies should consider directives on how to use the money non-binding.