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Former campaign op takes aim at DeSoto Sheriff's spending - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Former campaign op takes aim at DeSoto Sheriff's spending

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MANSFIELD, La. -

A former campaign manager has turned on the DeSoto Sheriff -- a man he's helped get elected four times. There won't be a fifth because he says Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle is spending too much on what people don't need. But the sheriff fires back in defense.

The former campaign manager, Willie Melancon, points to the nearly two million dollar, spacious vehicle maintenance shop going up in Mansfield. To keep the sheriff's fleet rolling, there are five bays for two mechanics. Melancon questions that math.

"I didn't get involved with Rodney Arbuckle to have him build $2 million buildings when we probably need a $500,000 one," Melancon protests.

But, says Sheriff Arbuckle, "I'm building for growth."

He says thanks to cash reserves from the Haynesville Shale, he can meet future needs for the growing parish without asking for more taxes.

"Why not build this now when you have the money? Arbuckle asks rhetorically. "I may not have the money later on."

Arbuckle steps off the elevator of the sheriff's office to his current vehicle maintenance shop, which he says is crammed with problems. For one, it doubles as an entry for inmates.

"We have cars coming in here to unload prisoners. Safety issues," the sheriff says.

He worries that a prisoner could grab a tool nearby to use as weapon. There are also flammable automobile fluids stored in the shop, right below the jail where more than a hundred inmates are locked up.

Melancon points to an area he says the sheriff could've built a less expensive shop -- on land next to the sheriff's also new training center. But Arbuckle says that spot is used for SWAT and K-9 training.

Melancon also questions the helicopter the sheriff recently bought .

"If we need a helicopter we can get one from state police. So it's not like we don't have any available," Melancon complains. "It's a luxury, not a necessity."

"If you're the parent who has a missing child, it'd be a need," retorts Arbuckle.

The sheriff says the chopper has been used in searches for the missing and for manhunts with its FLIR infrared vision technology. The chopper is also equipped with LoJack, which can help identify stolen heavy equipment. Arbuckle says he bought the aircraft used for less than a new LoJack itself -- $285,000. It's flown by volunteer pilots.

Arbuckle also says he can't count on state police to loan him one of their choppers, especially if time is crucial.

Still, Melancon says the sheriff is going down the road of needless spending.

"Why don't we roll back some of the taxes that we've got instead of just going and spending it because we have it?" Melancon suggests.

Arbuckle says he has $39 million in reserves.

"We're going to leave it there for a rainy day fund in case we get in a situation because I'm not going to take it out and spend it unless I see a need for it," the sheriff says.

Arbuckle says Melancon's concerns have more to do with politics than actual concerns about spending. Indeed, Melancon says he's ready to help Arbuckle's opponent win in the next election in 2015.

"He don't care what people think anymore. He's got his retirement made and he's just going to do I guess all the things he wanted to do but he knew were not politically popular," Melancon claims.

Says Arbuckle, "My concern is for the people of DeSoto Parish and trying to protect them in the best way that I can."

His possible opponent in the next election is Mansfield Police Captain Gary Hobbs, who says he's seriously considering a challenge.

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