After nearly seven years of litigation, three Utah County towns and an independent electric service provider have settled their differences.

Spanish Fork, Salem and Payson were all drawn into the lawsuit, fueled by rapid growth, over who would provide electric service to annexed areas. Each city provides electricity for its residents, but an independent entity, Strawberry Electric Service District, also provides electrical service. The district was set up by county commissioners in 1985 to service growing south Utah County areas.As the cities would annex county land serviced by Strawberry, contention developed over who would provide electrical service. In some instances Spanish Fork city crews simply disconnected Strawberry lines to connect city lines in newly annexed areas, recalled Gary Akin, Strawberry district manager.

A special committee of Payson city officials met recently with Strawberry officials to work out the settlement. "They were very helpful in trying to resolve the situation," said Akin. Officials from the other cities also worked on the negotiations.

According to the settlement, Strawberry will keep the customers it now has for 10 years, while the three cities pay for the facilities Strawberry constructed on land the cities have since annexed. The customers will then be transferred to their respective cities. As new homes are built in already annexed areas they will be served by their respective cities. Each city must pay fair market value for the equipment, including power poles and lines, said Junior Baker, attorney for both Spanish Fork and Salem.

That will cost Spanish Fork $286,620; Payson, $90,502 and Salem $52,000. The towns are surrounded by land zoned for a minimum lot size of five acres, but vast expanses of land zoned for smaller lots are ready to be developed on Spanish Fork's southeast bench area once sewer issues are resolved there. Present sewer lines are at capacity and must be enlarged before large-scale development can take place, Baker said. "We have a plan to do that," he added.

When land is annexed in the future, the cities must purchase Strawberry's electrical equipment when it switches customers to city electrical service, Baker said. But Strawberry will keep those customers for 10 years while the cities pay off those facilities. Changes in state law now make annexations tougher to do, said David Tuckett, Payson city attorney.

The settlement is based on earlier court decisions, including a Utah Supreme Court ruling in December that said Spanish Fork must buy Strawberry's facilities when it takes them over.