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What to do about Willow Creek?

That appears to be the most challenging question facing the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday when it tries to establish boundaries for the six townships and 44 unincorporated islands whose residents will vote Nov. 3 on their future governance.

In each of those townships, residents will be asked if they want to become a city or to form a metropolitan township. In 43 of the 44 islands, the question will be to remain unincorporated or to annex into an adjacent city.

But in Willow Creek, a southeastern valley community best known for its country club and golf course, the issue is more complicated.

It is flanked by two cities, Sandy and Cottonwood Heights. So the County Council must decide whether the ballot option it gives to Willow Creek voters is to stay unincorporated, to annex in full to Cottonwood Heights, to annex entirely into Sandy, or to split the community in two with part possibly going to Sandy and the other part potentially joining Cottonwood Heights.

Heading into Tuesday's 10 a.m. meeting in the North Building of the County Government Center, 2001 S. State, there's no clear answer.

"I represent all three areas and I think they're all great," said County Councilman Max Burdick, whose District 6 includes both cities and Willow Creek. "We could go on for years trying to decide what is the best deal."

But they don't have years.

The council has until May 19 to describe township and island boundaries — and publish maps on a new county web page — — so the public can review them before a June 3 public hearing about the upcoming vote mandated by the legislatively approved Community Preservation Act.

That's Mayor Ben McAdams' name for his proposed solution to decades of boundary disputes in Salt Lake County as annexations and incorporations whittled away at what once was a broad swath of unincorporated territory.

McAdams' plan allows for the creation of a special service district to provide municipal services — most notably snowplowing, but also functions such as street lighting, planning and zoning, and animal control — to roughly 160,000 people throughout the unincorporated area.

Any of the six existing townships — Copperton, Kearns, Magna, White City, Emigration Canyon and Millcreek — that vote to be a metropolitan township will have representation on a board that will run the municipal-services district. Its personnel and equipment may be broken off from the county, just as police and firefighting operations separated from Salt Lake County government when the Unified Police Department and the Unified Fire Authority were created.

If a township votes instead to become a city, it could later decide to provide its own services or to contract them from an adjacent city or this new service district. Islands that vote to remain unincorporated would get their services from this district as well.

For the most part, the boundaries of the townships and unincorporated islands are not disputed.

A few tweaks will be necessary. For instance, the council probably will change Millcreek Township's eastern border to remove Mill Creek Canyon, which will go into a separate mountain planning district along with Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood and Parleys canyons.

That prospect hasn't been controversial. Nor is there expected to be any friction over Kennecott Copper's anticipated request to designate its widespread west-side properties as unincorporated land and not to include them in either Copperton or Magna townships.

Willow Creek is different.

The community is not united. There are disputes about who actually represents the area as its community council. And, Burdick noted, there's no certainty yet about whether Sandy or Cottonwood Heights wants to include all or part of Willow Creek within its city.

"While Willow Creek looks flat on a map," McAdams observed, "it's not. … You can't drive a snowplow from north to south through Willow Creek" because of its hills and dales, winding roads and cul-de-sacs. That may dissuade either city from wanting to provide services there.

"We can't make [the cities] take something they don't want," Burdick said. And for those residents who just want things to stay the way they are now, he added, there's little chance of that happening. "I've told them 'you'll still be subject to piecemeal annexations.' But that's their choice."

Ultimately, County Council members have to make the boundary decisions. Whatever lines they draw Tuesday could be revised in the week or two after the June 3 hearing, said council attorney Jason Rose.

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