Voters should support a property-tax levy allowing King County to trade in a rundown center for a new Children and Family Justice Center.

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KING County voters should support a sensible $210 million property-tax levy to replace the aging Youth Services Center slated for the Aug. 7 primary ballot.

This is not a luxury, but an overdue replacement for a critical public service. A property-tax increase is a difficult sell in this tough economic climate, but the youth center’s public-safety risks and escalating maintenance costs make a compelling case for a new facility.

The nine-year levy plan unanimously approved by the Metropolitan King County Council calls for replacing the three buildings that currently handle juvenile offender, child-abuse and child-abandonment cases on the 9.5-acre site near Seattle University.

Three acres would be sold to developers and the $16.5 million from the sale would help pay for the new construction costs. That’s a smart leveraging of public dollars that adds to the proposal’s appeal.

Rising gun violence in Seattle has shifted the attention of law-enforcement and public-policy officials to youth crime. An attendant need is a county juvenile facility suited to modern approaches that go beyond detention to include services proved to move young people out of the criminal-justice system.

Juvenile drug court, mentoring programs and therapeutic services for youths and their families are known to reduce recidivism rates among young offenders. Crowded conditions at the current center limit coordination of services as well as access.

The courtrooms, built back in the early 1970s, are too small to handle today’s juvenile proceedings that can often involve parents, extended family, social workers and representatives from school. In criminal cases, victims must sometimes testify in intimidating proximity to offenders.

Narrow hallways and crowded waiting rooms are incubators of tension. Court officials work to keep rival gang members separate but crowded conditions make it difficult.

Tiny meeting rooms for lawyers and their clients are often full, forcing sensitive conversations out into the open.

One purpose of the juvenile center is to connect kids and families with the services they need. Court judges say participation rates in substance-abuse programs, counseling and other court-mandated programs would be higher if people could sign up on-site. But families are sent to other areas of the city, many relying on bus service or walking. The new center would have space for social service field offices and representatives of nonprofit agencies that can help.

The buildings are decrepit. Plumbing, electrical and ventilation problems at the facility add to the $1.5 million spent annually on maintenance. Offices are frigid in winter and steamy in summer. Water fountains spill discolored water, forcing a switch to bottled water. County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said he has brought Popsicles to staff housed there when the temperatures reached 90 degrees.

The owner of a home valued at $350,000 would pay just $25 a year. Voters should check the “yes” box for a new King County Children and Family Justice Center.