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The Senate advanced a bill Monday to allow residents of unincorporated Salt Lake County to vote this year on whether to form cities, or become part of a new "metro township."

The Senate passed SB199 on an 23-5 vote, and sent it to the House.

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said the Legislature had debated for decades how to handle unincorporated areas, and her bill — worked out over the past year with interested parties — would finally settle the issue.

It would create a new form of government, a metro township whose boundaries would be protected from annexations. It would still allow a city to annex all or part of unincorporated islands or peninsulas if the county and the city agree it would be a good move.

The township also would have authority to enact local ordinances and oversee planning and zoning matters.

If the House also passes the bill, residents in each of the six existing townships — Millcreek, Magna, Kearns, White City, Copperton and Emigration Canyon — would be given a choice in November: vote to be part of a metro township or a city.

People living in unincorporated areas that are not part of a township would vote whether to remain unincorporated or to annex into a city.

While Mayne said all townships support her bill, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, disputed that and said the Magna Town Council in his district opposes it.

He complained that if a vote to incorporate fails, residents would be "prohibited from even attempting a change for four years," and doom township residents to second-class status without full power of a city.

He offered an alternative to freeze all boundaries within the county to allow another year of study. That plan died on a 6-20 vote.