In his first year as sheriff of the most spacious county in Missouri, James Sigman feels like he went through a lot.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Sigman said. “We’ve made a lot of changes, and it’s been good.”

Changes at the Texas County Sheriff’s Department during Sigman’s first 12 months can be found in almost every corner of the operation, and there are many new faces since the beginning of 2013.

“I feel really good about my staff,” Sigman said. “The deputies are really good, and I think they’re doing a good job serving the community.”

A lot of the department’s new faces can be seen working in the jail.

“We’ve had a lot of turnover in the jail, but a lot of that is a salary issue,” Sigman said. “There’s a lot of hard work to do back there for what I’m able to pay them. We have a lot of good employees back there, but we’ve lost a lot of good employees back there. They come in looking for a job, and a lot of them have left for better pay.

“But you can’t hold it against them for bettering themselves.”

Sigman said he’s satisfied with the sheriff department’s current fleet, which through his direction now includes four new four-wheel drive pickups, two Crown Victoria sedans and a recently added transport van (or “paddy wagon”).

Two of the trucks are Fords and two are Dodges.

“I hope to stick with trucks, because I think the serve us best,” Sigman said. “We’ll test them out and in a couple of years, we’ll see which brand is going to better serve the county economically, as far as maintenance, fuel economy and everything else. And the Crown Vic’s are holding up well.”

The sheriff’s department was recently awarded a grant that will provide better bullet-proof vests to officers. Sigman said a Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLEBG) resulted in funding for upgrading lots of other gear. Administered by the state department of justice and department of public safety, the grant covers 90 percent of the gear’s cost.

“I think my part of it will be about $1,700,” Sigman said. “We got new light bars, sirens, trauma kits, flashlights and a lot more. We got a lot of equipment for minimal cost.”

Earlier in the year, other grants allowed for upgrading radios, computers and adding new software, and even covering overtime for DWI saturation programs and other procedural matters. But Sigman said that perhaps the best boost in funding came from a deputies supplemental salary grant, which provides pay to officers through an additional $10 now collected with civil process paperwork. The pay hike took effect in July.

“It supplements salaries throughout the state for smaller departments like ours that can’t afford to pay their deputies,” Sigman said. “That got all of our deputies’ salaries up to $28,000, which was about a $6,000 raise for most of them.”

Sigman said department expenditures were kept in check during his first year.

“We tried to cut our budget and we were able to save money,” he said. “I know it seemed like a lot was spent on the vehicles, but that came from a county account that’s set aside for that. But we saved a lot where we could.

“We worked with the dietitians and we changed our menu and we spent about $65,000 in the kitchen versus about $95,000-100,000 last year and the year before. And we were able to save in other areas.”

Another category where money was saved was in the jail cells themselves.

“We were blessed that our inmate count wasn’t too bad,” Sigman said. “Our average daily count was about 47. When you have 72 beds and only 47 are usually full, you can feel pretty good about not being at capacity, and that does make it easier.”

Having been Texas County’s lead law officer for a year, Sigman now has a clearer understanding of the realities of dealing with such a sizable piece of real estate and the inevitable downside to covering it all.

“Response time is still our biggest challenge,” he said. “It seems like you’re never where you need to be. I would love to have a dozen guys, but even if we did, overcoming that response time issue would still be tough. From my office, some places are a half-hour away and with eight deputies, it’s not easy.

“But I have not had that many complaints and I’m really proud of my guys.”

Sigman said his inaugural year has shown him that there are a few “hot spots” within the county, but that centers of activity can also shift.

“It kind of varies, but it seems like we’re up in the direction of Plato a lot at times, and at times we’re often in Tyrone, Clear Springs and that area,” he said. “And it seems like the Licking area is big for stealing. We’re still working on building our neighborhood watch program, and we’re lacking in neighborhood watches over there. I wish we could get some people interested, because where the program is in place, especially where vehicles are marked and signs are up, we really don’t have near as much trouble.”

Sigman said that to adequately cover Texas County with a staff as small as his requires cooperation with other area agencies.

“All the other departments –– highway patrol, conservation, police and fire departments –– have all been fantastic to work with,” he said. “I feel we have a good relationship with everybody.”

While year one of Sigman’s tenure was one of learning and change, he said there’s more to come in 2014.

“It’s hard to accomplish everything you want in the first year, and there are still a few things we’re working on,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement, but for the most part, I’m happy with where we’re going.

“I feel like we’ve come a long way and it’s been a good year. But I feel a lot better having this year behind me.”

There’s always room for improvement, but for the most part, I’m happy with where we’re going.”

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