NC Republicans stand by plan to move DHHS from Raleigh to Granville County

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican legislative leaders are standing by their plan to move the state Department of Health and Human Services to Granville County by including the move in their budget agreement released Tuesday.

House and Senate leaders did not release the specifics of the budget until after a press conference with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

The Senate included the DHHS move in its version of the budget while the House initially did not, but House Speaker Tim Moore (R) spoke in support of the idea Tuesday.

“This recognizes this General Assembly’s continued commitment to try to provide resources to the rural areas of this state,” he said.

The idea shocked employees when senators first unveiled it at the end of May. The move also caught Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and DHHS leaders by surprise.

The governor previously supported the plan to move the headquarters of the Department of Motor Vehicles from Raleigh to Rocky Mount, over the objections of many employees who said they would seek work elsewhere.

Some employees of DHHS told CBS 17 they also would seek other jobs instead of commuting to Granville County.

“I think they have shot themselves in the foot when they took the hospital and moved it up there, and now they have literally cut their throats and ours too,” said Hope Turlington, who retired from DHHS and now works at the agency’s Dix Park campus part-time. “We can see if we can serve the people of the state of Virginia. That’s where the state of love is. That seems to be where they want all of our people now. So, let’s just open our doors to the state of Virginia and say North Carolina does not exist anymore.”

Kelly Haight Connor, a spokesperson for DHHS, previously told CBS 17 the move would impact about 2,300 employees.

The state sold Dix Park to the City of Raleigh in July 2015.

A presentation prepared by the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management on March 13 describes a plan to build a new DHHS office in Raleigh off Blue Ridge Road at a cost of about $268 million, mostly funded through bonds. It also notes that 75 percent of the agency’s employees live in Wake County.

The budget Republicans unveiled Tuesday calls for a study to compare the costs of moving to Granville County versus moving within Raleigh.

“We think it’s important for the more rural areas to reap the benefit of state jobs,” said Republican Senate leader Phil Berger. “We think that given the improvements we’ve seen in our highway infrastructure that those roads go both ways.”

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in the two-and-a-half years she’s been on the job, moving to Granville County has not come up in the discussion until now.

“We’ve been thinking about our move and studying it and looking at how we’re going to move. At no time did we ever talk about Granville. So, I think there’s a lot more work that needs to be done in order to make sure we understand all the implications for our workforce,” she said. “So, this hasn’t been studied at all. So, obviously I’ve been hearing from my own employees who are worried about these kinds of issues. But, I think they’re also worried about what’s happening to the people that we serve.”

She also criticized a provision in the Republicans’ budget proposal that calls for a special session to deal with health care, to include potentially expanding Medicaid. She said those discussions should happen now before the budget is finalized. Gov. Roy Cooper has made Medicaid expansion one of his top priorities in the state budget process.

If no budget agreement is reached by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, the state government will not shut down. Rather, government operations continue at current funding levels until a compromise is reached. Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Berger, said the budget likely will include a provision to retroactively pay employees who would receive raises.

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