LEAKESVILLE, Miss. (WKRG) – The state homeland security director toured Leakesville Tuesday, March 7, as the town looks for funding to upgrade public safety facilities and equipment.

Executive Director Baxter Kruger and deputy director Jim Brinson discussed partnership opportunities with Mayor David West and Leakesville Volunteer Fire Department leadership before touring the firehouse and parts of town.

The visit from the state is part of a process the town has been working through over the last several months to receive grants to fund infrastructure improvements in every department.

“We’ve been hit hard with infrastructure,” said Mayor West. “We’ve had roads collapse. We’ve had sinkholes. We’ve had sewers falling. This is stuff that normally would be taken care of over the years, but it hadn’t because of money. We cannot live alone on revenue in the city.”

Census data list the town’s population at 3,775, but local leaders say it is closer to 1,200 residents when subtracting inmates at the state prison (SMCI). The tax base does not support all the needs of the town, especially as more Mississippians age and live on fixed incomes.

Aging pipes have made water leaks more frequent throughout town in addition to persistent drainage problems.

Last year, Lafayette Avenue was closed off with a 6-foot by 6-foot sinkhole in the road. The board of aldermen was able to direct about $385,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds and use its own crews to totally rebuild the road. After opening to local traffic March 1, Public Works Director James Radcliff says the road should be nearly finished this month with space around it for a future greenway.

The Gallow’s Creek bridge near McLeod Avenue and River Street was repaired and reopened in January after closing in September. The town is also waiting for a deposit from a $1.8 million Congressional earmark to upgrade a water main and install eight miles of water lines to extend service to 100 rural customers on Jernigan Road.

Aldermen contracted with Horne LLP to help manage applications for state and federal grants to fund additional projects.

“The Horne Group is able to bring people to us to help us get funding. We’re not having to go out and search. They’re bringing them to us. And they’re showing us how to do the job,” West said. “We’re the county seat. We’re the city that everyone looks to in the county and if we don’t lead, no one else will.”

State staff will be back in town in the coming months to perform a needs assessment to determine what the town needs to provide adequate emergency response. The data will be used to apply for grants administered by homeland security and other departments.

In part, the town is eyeing a new operations center to replace the current fire station and potentially bring back a police force. Other improvements include added sidewalks and replacing old fire turnout gear and other equipment.

Public works staff has also had to deal with an increase in vandalism over the past year in town parks. 28 cameras and two license plate readers were installed in October to deter and solve crime.

The town’s responsibility to protect visitors and provide incident command for large groups like at events in downtown, the fairgrounds and Wild Country Off Road was discussed during the tour. The fire department is also called frequently for mutual aid for other areas in the county and beyond.

“There’s not enough money to go around. We’ve got to make priorities. People have to have drinking water. People have to have roads to drive on and bridges. And so far we’ve taken care of everything,” West said. “Now we’re looking ahead to fund more long-term improvements to keep everyone safe.”

Horne is also working to spur economic development opportunities and recruit business, a representative told the board of alderman. It hopes for more news on that front later this year.