King County leaders propose $200 million property tax levy for juvenile detention center

March 1, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 9:30 a.m. March 1, 2012

King County leaders proposed a $200 million property tax levy Thursday to fund a replacement for the aging Youth Services Center, a juvenile detention facility in Seattle.

Kathy Lambert

Led by Councilman Bob Ferguson, County Council members proposed to put a measure on the August ballot for a nine-year levy. If the levy is placed on the ballot and passed, homeowners should pay about 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $20 per year for a home assessed at $350,000.

Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, the Issaquah representative on the council, joined Ferguson and councilmen Larry Gossett and Joe McDermott to introduce the legislation. County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Superior Court judges also support the proposed levy.

“We have done extensive work on several proposals for a replacement juvenile justice facility, and this appears to be the best option for kids, for families, and for the neighborhood,” Constantine said in a statement.

The proposal calls for replacing decaying buildings constructed in the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s.

The detention facility houses about 65 children and teenagers.

Officials deemed the electrical, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems as beyond repair. Replacement costs for the systems could reach more than $20 million.

The county spent millions addressing ongoing mold and moisture lingering from a 2006 flood. In 2010, officials suspended court operations at the facility after a water main broke outside the building. The county also had to relocate employees after the discovery of toxic PCBs in window caulking.

In addition, the facility is not designed to handle a hectic caseload. Officials said courtrooms and waiting areas lack enough space for juvenile offenders, family members, attorneys and others. Judges and commissioners at the juvenile court on site handle 3,700 cases per year at the facility.

“Children from all over King County who have suffered abuse and neglect should not have to deal with safety risks or be further victimized by the conditions they encounter in going to court,” Lambert, chairwoman of the Council Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee, said in a statement.

Officials started planning to replace the Youth Services Center years ago. The project has ranked as the county’s highest-priority capital project since 2008.

“This proposed facility will allow us to be able finally to implement this proven model,” Lambert said. “Juvenile crime and detention numbers are down, thanks in large part to alternative programs and strategies we have put in place. The transformation of our juvenile justice system now focuses on restoring youth to healthy and productive lives, and that means we need facilities that support these procedures and timely interventions.”

The legislation is expected to be referred to the Council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee for initial review. The complete council then decides if the measure should be placed on the Aug. 7 primary ballot.

“Providing justice for our children and our families is a core county responsibility, and our current facilities are in a state of crisis,” Ferguson, prime sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. “The facilities must be replaced. We’ve examined all of the options, and it is time to send the best possible proposal forward to the ballot.”

Ferguson, a Democrat, is running for state attorney general against Issaquah-area Councilman Reagan Dunn, a Republican.

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