County to buy DMV building

Lewis County Department of Motor Vehicles. Julie Abbass/Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — The final pieces of the Lewis County office space puzzle have fallen into place with the purchase of the Department of Motor Vehicles building.

The county Board of Legislators on Tuesday unanimously approved the purchase of 2 to 2.5 acres of property, including the acre that holds the existing DMV and parking lot at 7513 E. State St., from VS Virkler & Son Inc. for $430,000.

As the board crafted its capital project plan to build new and rehabilitate old county office buildings and group departments with related focuses, the question about what to do with the DMV and Board of Elections spaces hung in the balance. Both departments have been using rented spaces.

The DMV property, near the intersection of East State and River streets, was purchased with the intent to build additional space onto the existing structure with a shared lobby for the Board of Elections and its equipment and office space for the Weights and Measures Department, which will bring all rent payments to an end for the county when it’s completed.

Although the agreed upon price was significantly more than the appraised market value of $320,000, County Manager Ryan M. Piche said the savings in rent alone will pay for the building and the renovations.

Rent for the three office spaces combined this year will be $94,666, according to Mr. Piche, which means, considering the 2% rent increase annually for each location, the county will avoid paying about $2.4 million in rent in the first 20 years the offices are on the property.

“By the time we buy the building and construct the new edition for the Board of Elections, and there’s no way we’re going to be in it for more than a million total, so over 20 years, that’s savings for the county,” Mr. Piche said.

Combining the two services on the same property was strategic from both a planning and convenience of services perspective.

“‘Motor Voter’ is a thing that is common, to put your Motor Vehicles with your Board of Elections,” Mr. Piche said. “It’s kind of a one-stop shop with address changes for new people coming into the state or into the community. Having those two things together, ‘motor’ and ‘voter’ makes a lot of sense for the public.”

For the people who work with and at the DMV, the purchase decision is a relief.

County Clerk Jake Moser said he and his team are pleased to know that another office move, with the myriad steps it takes for a governmental department, will not be necessary which gives them a “feeling of permanency; that we’ve found our permanent home for awhile.”

He also looks forward to making changes to the building that will “make the DMV more customer-service friendly for waiting and customer-service friendly for entering and exiting ... (giving) us the ability to work on the traffic flow through the building.”

The decision to buy the DMV property and include the elections board there was also a crucial step in the county’s renovation project for the Department of Social Services building on Outer Stowe Street.

“We couldn’t proceed with the renovation of DSS until we had a decision on the Board of Elections because we were going to try to fit the Board of Elections in over on Stowe Street, and that was going to change things significantly,” Mr. Piche said. “Now that we know that they’re out (of the DSS building planning) and they’re going to be definitely on River Street with DMV, we can finish the design and lock (it) in on Stowe Street.”

Work on the DMV property won’t begin immediately, so office rentals will continue as they are for some time.

Mr. Piche said the “order of operations” for starting the three capital projects in various stages of preparation is the new Highway Department garage first, followed by the Outer Stowe Street building and the DMV property, which he anticipates will begin next summer.

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