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Originally published Monday, April 16, 2012 at 5:56 PM

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Voters asked to OK $210M levy for new Youth Services Center

In a unanimous decision, Metropolitan King County Council members said replacing the rundown center — which includes courtrooms, offices, classrooms and a detention center — is the county's top building priority.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Metropolitan King County Council voted Monday to put a nine-year, $210 million property-tax levy on the Aug. 7 primary ballot to rebuild the county's Youth Services Center.

In a unanimous decision, council members said replacing the rundown center — which includes courtrooms, offices, classrooms and a detention center — is the county's top building priority.

The levy would cost the owner of a home valued at $350,000 about $25 a year.

Councilmember Bob Ferguson, who sponsored the legislation, noted the levy would pay only for construction, not operating costs. The levy is "appropriately sized," said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, adding that paying through a property tax is better than a failed proposal in 2010 to rebuild the facility with sales-tax receipts.

The property tax is considered less regressive than a sales tax and has traditionally been used for county building projects.

The county's levy will compete on the August ballot with Seattle's proposed $123 million levy for city libraries.

The 9.5-acre facility near Seattle University handles cases involving juvenile offenders, child abuse and child abandonment. For years county officials have documented plumbing, electrical and ventilation problems at the facility. They've also said the areas for families to meet and discuss sensitive problems are loud and crowded.

The county's plan calls for selling three acres of the campus to developers and using $16 million in proceeds to offset construction costs. County officials hope for 425 residential units and a zoning change that would allow buildings up to 85 feet tall; current zoning allows 65 feet.

Under the proposal, the facility would be renamed the Children and Family Justice Center.

No one spoke against the proposed levy at the council meeting. County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg had earlier told the council the facility was chaotic and he has brought Popsicles to his staff there when the temperature indoors has reached 90 degrees.

"As a symbol to youth and families, the building is an absolute failure," Satterberg said. "The proposal before you is well thought out and modest. I would pledge my support in a campaign."

County officials explored alternatives. Looking for a cheaper solution last year, they solicited ideas from developers. None was cost-free to taxpayers, as the county had hoped.

"This is the best solution," Councilmember Julia Patterson said, "to a problem we've had for a long time."

There is not yet an organized campaign to support the measure, though County Executive Dow Constantine said Monday he would speak out in favor.

"I'm going to campaign for it by fundraising, by speaking to community groups and any other way I can help."

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