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Thursday, January 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Opportunity Township

Townships were a way for rural areas to have a local government of their own, outside of cities and outside of county government. In Washington, only Spokane and Whatcom counties allowed townships to form a local government and levy property taxes to support it. The state approved townships in 1908.

Opportunity, a name chosen by a local resident in a contest, formed its government in 1909. With it came the ability to levy property taxes to support public employees and services offered by the township. Sprague Avenue, known as Appleway then, was mostly apple orchards from Spokane city limits to Greenacres. Owners of the orchards, as well as others who were trying to develop and sell land in the Spokane Valley, saw an advantage in local governance. A township hall was built in 1912 and became the civic and social center of the community.

The price of apples declined through the 1920s and orchards began to be replaced with houses and businesses, starting the transformation of the valley from agrarian life, largely without electricity before the 1930s, to a suburban neighborhood of Spokane.

By the 1960s, the apples were mostly gone and some were wondering about the usefulness of the township form of government. The state legislature, concerned about the redundant taxes of multiple jurisdictions, took away townships’ right to levy taxes in 1969. Without direct taxation, townships withered and services dwindled. Opportunity tried to keep a revenue stream by using one of the few fees they were still allowed to charge: dog licensing. But in a countywide vote in 1974, citizens disbanded townships entirely.

Later, the Opportunity town hall, a Spanish colonial-style building on Sprague Avenue, reverted to state ownership and eventually was passed to the city of Spokane Valley when it incorporated in 2003. After several tries to rent or sell the hall, the city finally gave the building to the Spokane Valley Legacy Foundation, a group dedicated to preserving Spokane Valley area history. The group opened the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum there in 2005. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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