McComb Mayor Quordiniah Lockley acknowledged that the city faces challenges, but sounded forceful notes of optimism in his State of the City address Thursday night.
Speaking to those assembled Thursday night at the State Theater in downtown McComb, Lockley pointed to infrastructure, crime rates, organizational structure, finances and downtown development as areas of concern.
He noted that the city had been rated as having the highest crime rate in the state, while water and sewer lines and streets need major repairs and replacements.
Both of those needs suffer in part because of declining revenues, especially sales tax returns, and the spending down of city reserves, he said. The city froze hiring and spending last year because of fears the city’s reserve funds would be exhausted.
However, the city has also seen improvements. After purchasing software earlier this year that better integrates the police department and city court and make reporting crime statistics to the FBI easier, a website rated McComb one of the safest cities in the state.
The city has also continued projects begun under the previous administration, including cleaning, sealing and sanitizing tanks at the city’s water plant and upgrading the Northwest Interceptor sewer line, to shore up and improve infrastructure, and earlier this year voted to float $3.2 million in bonds to pave streets.
Lockley said the city has moved to address quality of life issues in the community, as well, by dedicating $500,000 of hotel and motel tax proceeds to park improvements, bonding $1.5 million for a new Martin Luther King Recreation Center and taking on ownership and operation of the Alpha Center.
“The city of McComb is positioned to move forward,” Lockley said. “We need to change the narrative. It’s time for us to tell our own story.”
While McComb has reinvented itself and its economy several times, moving from railroad to textiles to retail commerce as economic engines, Lockley said he believes McComb has never fully recovered from the Great Recession that began in 2008.
The cure to bring a renaissance to the city may lie in its history and in the arts.
“I believe McComb can become the arts and entertainment center of Southwest Mississippi,” Lockley said.
He spoke of the city’s support for festivals, including the revitalized Iron Horse Festival and the Summit Street Unity Festival that was restarted this year.
He said the city could become a haven for artists, which is something the city may be assisting by leasing the former juvenile detention center to Pike School of Art, which plans exhibits and living space for visiting artists at the facility.
Lockley said incentives for residents in the city’s historic district, economic opportunity zone and a proposed entertainment district could also help to boost the city, including the city’s downtown area, most of which lies within all three of those special zones.
He said the city would launch three initiatives and urge citizen participation in them: Safe City, Clean City and Healthy City.
Safe City will concentrate on combatting crime, especially juvenile crime, and promote citizen cooperation with police.
“Ninety percent of crimes are solved with information from citizens,” Lockley said.
Clean City will involve picking up stray trash and addressing abandoned and deteriorating properties, though “the city does not have the money or the manpower to take care of everything,” he said.
He urged citizens to work together independently or through their churches or civic organizations to clean up their yards and streets.
Healthy City will be a partnership with Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center to promote healthy lifestyles, with changes to cooking and eating healthier recipes and encouraging more exercise.
“The city of McComb will become a safe city, a clean city, a healthy city,” Lockley said. “We will change the narrative and move McComb forward.”