Spokane Valley instantly becomes Washington's ninth largest city when incorporation becomes official on March 31, 2003.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 5/26/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10120
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On March 31, 2003, Spokane Valley instantly becomes the state's ninth largest city when incorporation becomes official. The new city, which encompasses a number of communities and districts between Spokane and the Washington/Idaho border, is born with a population of about 80,700. After several failed incorporation attempts, voters narrowly approved the incorporation measure on May 21, 2002. In November 2002, voters chose a city council and a mayor. Officials then chose the March 31, 2003 incorporation date in order to have time to organize the new city's departments. Incorporation is celebrated in a standing-room-only ceremony at the just-finished city council chambers. Mayor Mike DeVleming proclaims the city "open for business" (Hutson, "Map"). 

Along the Spokane River

Residents had long used the term Spokane Valley to refer to the approximately 15-mile broad swath of land along the Spokane River east of Spokane. It was divided into many small communities and irrigation districts -- notably Dishman, Opportunity, Veradale, Yardley, and Greenacres -- yet it had resisted incorporation and remained an unincorporated area under the jurisdiction of Spokane County for more than a century.

The idea of incorporation had been bandied about since the 1950s. But by 1990, following a huge population boom, incorporation took on new impetus. Four incorporation measures, covering various parts of the Spokane Valley, went before voters in the 1990s. All were defeated.

That changed in 2002 when incorporation backers including Ed Mertens, Cary Driskell, Dennis Scott, and Terry Lynch, floated a new proposal. Backers were convinced that, with the Spokane Valley's growing tax base, incorporation would lower taxes and improve government services. Opponents argued just the opposite, that city government would be more expensive. Yet residents were becoming increasingly concerned that the big city to the west, Spokane, intended to start annexing the lucrative parts of the Spokane Valley on its borders. For the first time, backers secured the crucial endorsement of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, one of the Valley's key institutions. The head of the chamber of commerce said, "The time is right" (Hutson, "Incorporation").

Winning and Organizing a City

The vote, on May 21, 2002, was close -- 51.3 percent in favor, 48.7 percent opposed. Yet it was sufficient to secure cityhood for this 37.5-square-mile stretch of suburbia. Proponents jubilantly said they were prepared "to form a great city" (Hutson, "Incorporation"). One of the first tasks was to elect a city council in an election on November 5, 2002. The city's first council consisted of Diana Wilhite, Steve Taylor, Mike DeVleming, Gary Schimmels, Rich Munson, Mike Flanigan and Dick Denenny. Under the city's council-manager form of government, the council elected a mayor from within its own ranks. It chose DeVleming as mayor and Wilhite as deputy mayor.

The council began organizing its city government. Not everything changed -- the new city contracted with Spokane County to continue providing law enforcement, court services and jail services, among others. Yet the new city was ready to start issuing its own building permits, launching its own parks programs, and performing many other city functions.

At the incorporation ceremony, Wilhite said the city was already delivering on its promises -- property taxes were lowered and the city was projecting a $3 million surplus in its first year.

"I'm hoping that 100 years from now, when people look back, they will be thinking what a great job we've done," said Wilhite (Hutson, "Map").

Sources: Lorie Hutson, "A Promise Fulfilled," Spokesman-Review, March 29, 2003, p. V-4; Lorie Hutson, "Spokane Valley is on the Map," Spokesman-Review, April 1, 2003, p. B-1; Lorie Hutson, "Spokane Valley Pulls Together for the Big Day," Spokesman-Review, March 30, 2003, p. A-1; Lorie Hutson, "Big Day Won't Bring Changes," Spokesman-Review, March 31, 2003, p. A-8; Lorie Hutson, "New City Backers Prep for Final Push," Spokesman-Review, May 18, 2002, p. V-22; Lorie Hutson, "Opponents Mean Business," Spokesman-Review, May 18, 2002, p. V-24; Lorie Hutson, "Valley Headed for Incorporation," Spokesman-Review, May 22, 2002, p. A-1;  Florence Boutwell, The Spokane Valley, Vol. 1, The Early Years (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1994); Florence Boutwell, The Spokane Valley, Vol. 2, A History of the Growing Years (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1995); Florence Boutwell, The Spokane Valley, Vol. 3, Out in the Gravel, (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1996); Florence Boutwell, The Spokane Valley, Vol. 4, The Naval Supply Depot at Velox (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 2004); Rev. Jonathan Edwards,  An Illustrated History of Spokane County (Spokane: W.H. Lever Publishing Co., 1900).

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