Guest Column: Phil Henderson has earned re-election to the Deschutes County Commission

Phil Henderson has been a Deschutes County commissioner for nearly 4 years. A Deschutes County resident for 32 years and a businessman, homebuilder and lawyer, he knows what it takes to be an effective commissioner and solve problems, notably those associated with higher taxes and growing personnel costs.

Commissioners are often faced with decisions that take the vote of at least two commissioners who agree on fiscal restraint. Seldom are they aided by county staff to find the means to control these costs, so we need commissioners who can think for themselves. Phil is one of those.

Since fiscal year 2007, the peak of the last economic boom, the number of county employees has grown 33% through fiscal year 2020, and total payroll costs have grown 88.5%. This 14-year increase in costs includes an 86% increase in employee salaries, a 90% increase in Public Employees Retirement System costs and a 77% increase in health care and dental benefits.

These increases (which total over $57 million per year more than fiscal year 2007) came with a long, crushing recession in the middle of this time span — which makes them all the more remarkable. Total personnel salaries have gone from $42 million to $78 million since fiscal year 2006-07. Other benefits payments have nearly doubled: PERS payments from $8 million to $15.5 million and health and dental from $10 million to $18 million. At this rate personnel costs will exceed $200 million for fewer than 1,350 employees before 2035.

Besides being unsustainable, these increases are inequitable. They are unfair burdens on taxpayers and families in our county who don’t have these kinds of salary increases or benefits.

Phil Henderson is an economic watchdog for Deschutes County taxpayers, closely questioning and, frequently, voting against staff recommendations for budget increases. He led the effort to roll back real estate taxes in 2017 and 2018 and was instrumental in controlling construction costs for both the new Oregon State University Extension building and the Behavioral Health Stabilization Center, including making the stabilization center available 24/7, a priority item for the sheriff’s department.

In addition to exercising constraints on county budgets, Commissioner Henderson has worked to promote affordable housing initiatives, such as reducing application fees for home construction on nonprime resource land on a 40-acre pilot project in Redmond, making 16 lots available to Habitat for Humanity in La Pine, and is leading the development of the new Veterans Village for homeless vets. He has been a strong proponent of smart and best use of land, not only for affordable housing but also for fire safety and environmental considerations, for example facilitating the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project to thin, mow and perform prescribed burning and participating in the Upper Deschutes Basin Study Group focusing on conservation efforts.

Another priority for Commissioner Henderson is roads. He was instrumental in obtaining federal funding for improving traffic flow at the north end of Bend and contributing to the Terrebonne Refinement Plan and safety improvements on the Tumalo/Old Bend Redmond Highway crossing and South County/Vandevert junction.

Phil Henderson has endorsements from the following, among others: Oregon Right to Life, Central Oregon Association of Realtors Trustees, Central Oregon Small Business PAC, Deschutes Republican Party, Redmond Patriots, Ladies of Lead, Deschutes County Farm Bureau, Congressman Greg Walden and Congressional District 2 Republican nominee Cliff Bentz.

Unlike his opponent, Commissioner Henderson has extensive knowledge of county needs and priorities. He has demonstrated commonsense, conservative solutions to county issues. His opponent was a staffer for Sen. Jeff Merkley, reputed to be one of the most left-wing members of the U.S. Congress and supported socialist in the 2016 presidential race. How will his extreme partisanship benefit the county?

Phil Henderson earned my respect over the past 4 years with his leadership as a county commissioner, his fiscal responsibility and his ability to bring people together on important issues. He deserves another four years to continue his work for Deschutes County.

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