In the past, Salt Lake County and the cities in the county settled border disputes the old-fashioned way.

They protested to the County Boundary Commission, slapped each other with lawsuits and slugged it out in the Legislature to win changes in the annexation law.In the early 1980s, a new law required the cities to declare their proposed future annexation areas, but that didn't resolve much - several cities overlapped in their designations of the same lucrative commercial areas. The fights continued.

But now a move is afoot to try a new approach. It started with the county, South Jordan and West Jordan. Now Sandy is in on it and Midvale is getting involved. Murray may be next in line.

The new approach takes the route of negotiated boundary agreements. It stops short of the wall-to-wall city scenarios some have proposed, but it goes beyond the piecemeal approach that has characterized many past annexations.

Several city and county officials hope it may end unproductive bickering and help them work out sensible ways to provide services to their residents.

The county worked out agreements with South Jordan and West Jordan in 1987, said Terry Holzworth, associate director of the County Public Works Department.

And for the past nine months or so, the county and Sandy have been negotiating a pact. Holzworth estimated they're still at least six to eight weeks from wrapping it up, but neither side sees any insurmountable obstacles.

Sandy City Attorney Wally Miller said Sandy officials are ready to sign the current draft. But the county people still have concerns.

Holzworth, Sandy Mayor Steve Newton and other officials hastened to emphasize that a boundary agreement would not force anyone into any city. Annexations would still have to be by petition of the people in an affected area.

County officials are talking with the community councils in the unincorporated county about the agreement, and the commission plans a public hearing if and when negotiators write a final draft.

The agreement, which would have to be approved by the County Commission and Sandy's City Council, would designate the city's eventual northern boundary as running along the bluff on the north and east of Little Cottonwood Creek northwest to 13th East, then west at approximately 75th South to Midvale.

Under the pact, the county would agree not to protest any proposed Sandy annexation within the planned boundary.

In return, the city would not exercise its extraterritorial jurisdiction to annex any of the lucrative Family Center shopping area along Fort Union Boulevard - or would take a big chunk of residential property at the same time if it were to annex.

Annexation law allows a city to require an annexation petition for any major residential or commercial development in the unincorporated county within a half mile of city limits. Salt Lake County wants to guard its commercial tax base in the Fort Union area from cities that might take income-producing properties, but leave residential areas behind.

Miller said Sandy wants the agreement because people deserve to know where the city is heading and the county needs to know what tax base it can count on. And Newton said the city wants to stop wasting time in court. Sandy and the county are currently in three boundary lawsuits.

Midvale's eastern boundary also puts its half-mile jurisdiction close enough to the Family Center area to give commissioners heartburn as well.

In fact, Midvale protested a proposed Sandy annexation of approximately 13 acres in the unincorporated county at the corner of 78th South and 13th East, "because we felt we ought to be involved in any agreement affecting our future growth," said Skip Criner, Midvale building and planning director. "And our future growth can only go east."

Criner said Newton subsequently met with Midvale Mayor Everett Dahl and allayed his fears about the annexation, so Midvale withdrew its protest - but decided to enter boundary agreement talks too.

Salt Lake County also protested the Sandy annexation at 78th South and 13th East. Officials said the annexation would be no problem under the draft agreement, but since nothing has been signed yet, the county wanted to protect its interests.

County commissioners agreed to drop the protest if Sandy would agree not to exercise its jurisdiction while boundary talks proceed.