Former Pinckney journalist, community activist, and roller derby skater Kasey Helton is gearing up for a chance to win a seat on the Livingston County Board of Commissioners.
Helton, 40, filed papers in February with the county clerk in preparation for the November 2018 election to represent the voters of District 6, which includes all of Marion Township, the Village of Pinckney, Putnam Township Precincts 2, 3, and 4, and Hamburg Township Precinct 3.
“Livingston County is a growing, vibrant community of individuals and families from a blend of socio-economic backgrounds, and we don’t have a county board that reflects that,” Helton said, citing that women make up only 22 percent of the board in a county that is 49.9 percent women, according to 2016 US Census data.
“The commissioners are either comfortably retired or don’t commute to work in a county in which most adult residents drive to jobs in other counties. All you have to do is look at the poor state of the county roads the rest of us drive to work on every day to see that the commission’s funding priorities reflect a clear disconnect with the needs of the community at large; I want to change that.”
Helton, a Democrat, was a reporter for the Livingston Daily Press & Argus in the early 2000s, covering the Village of Pinckney, Pinckney Community Schools, as well as Hamburg and Putnam Townships and local police. Today, she owns a home in Marion Township with her husband, Jim, a member of United Steelworkers Local 1900. Helton works for Michigan Medicine as an inpatient unit clerk for the Pediatric Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at CS Mott Hospital in Ann Arbor.
“As a reporter, I discovered in talking to people day after day along the M-36 corridor that their experiences seemed a lot like mine, and basically we all want the same things — great schools, safe roads, a safe environment, safe communities overall,” Helton said. “Later, as I became a commuter and my dad, who is a widower, retired in Marion Township and went on Social Security, I experienced these challenges for myself and my family firsthand.”
Those challenges and experience have helped Helton develop a solid platform to run on and win, she said: More investment in affordable senior housing and related resources for Livingston’s burgeoning senior population; restored funding for public services like the Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency (OLHSA) to pre-recession levels; more funding for Livingston Community Mental Health, which helps serve the county’s growing opioid-addicted population; a more robust investment in job-creating partnerships with the Economic Development Council of Livingston County and its affiliate, Ann Arbor SPARK — and fixing roads.
Helton cited the latest 2016-17 Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) road assessment published in the Detroit Free Press that found 50.5 percent of Livingston’s major roadways in “poor” condition. Instead of taking responsibility for county roads, Helton says the board has shifted the tax burden onto the townships in the form of special road millages so that the all-Republican board of commissioners can continue to claim the lowest county tax rate in the state.
“Places like Howell and Hamburg Townships are compelled to do the heavy lifting with increased taxes, or watch the roads crumble, ” Helton said.“These are county-owned roads,” she said. “It’s a setup that goes back for years now, and the result is that most of our county roads are rated poorly. It’s a failed strategy — the data shows that — and it needs to be reexamined.”
Helton revealed she and several other county commission candidates working on an innovative plan to invest more in Livingston County’s road system, as well as to address the other ‘weaknesses’ identified in the county’s own Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for 2014-2018.