Back off, cities. Residents of Salt Lake County townships want nothing to do with you, according to a survey released Monday.

Township residents want to protect their borders, which are set to dissolve in 2010. At least 50 percent of those surveyed by both phone and mail by the University of Utah's Center for Public Policy and Administration said they want the township setup to continue.

The survey also broke out the results by township and unincorporated area, and in every case, residents wanted to remain a township.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon was surprised by the results.

"I really had no idea," Corroon said. "I thought we would get some communities where we might see incorporation as one of their top results.

"It's a sign that people are pretty happy with their services or they feel some kind of community bond they don't want to give up."

Townships protect unincorporated areas from so-called piecemeal annexation. But those borders are set to dissolve in 2010, unless the Legislature steps in and does something.

Several cities have been courting areas of Millcreek for annexation. Salt Lake wants one piece, Murray wants another, and South Salt Lake wanted to take in the whole township.

But Millcreek residents' preferred choice at 41 percent was to stay a township. Annexation and becoming an unaffiliated area of unincorporated Salt Lake County statistically tied for second in preference, with 17 percent and 19 percent respectively.

For Diane Angus, who lives in Millcreek, it's about keeping cities from stealing pieces of land and valuable tax base.

"It just felt like the cities come in and take portions of the (township) that benefit them the most, but not necessarily the residents that are left behind," Angus said. "To me, that's not fair. If they are just going to take areas that benefit them and reduce our tax revenue, what's fair about that?"

The Legislature wanted the survey to be conducted to find out the fair option for everyone. In the end, 23 percent of the 52,000 mailed surveys were returned, in addition to a Dan Jones & Associates poll to verify the results.

County leaders must now present the survey results to the Legislature, as well as present solutions.

But Corroon said it must be a united effort between competing interests

"The question is will the cities and the county come together and present a united front to the Legislature or will all the various interested parties just go up and fight for what they want?" Corroon said. "I'm sure some of the cities would like to annex parts of the unincorporated county. That's what we'll have to figure out whether we can work together on something or go up there and fight for our own interests."

Jill Remington Love, chairwoman of the Salt Lake City Council, said she believes the county's survey will be beneficial in identifying challenges that may lie ahead for possible annexation, but did not completely rule out an attempt by the city to annex parts of Millcreek in the future.

"If we thought it was worth a conversation, I don't think we'd be so discouraged (by the poll results) that we wouldn't go ahead with a conversation and try to educate folks about the benefits of being part of a city," Remington Love said. "Ultimately the residents have the say. If they don't want to become part of the city, then they don't."

Then the question is whether the Legislature will even listen.

Several people who responded to the survey said, "I don't know why I'm filling out this survey, the Legislature is just going to do what it wants to do anyway," said Janice Houston, a senior policy analyst at the U.'s Center for Public Policy and Administration.

"There is a real distrust in the legislative process among these folks."

Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-West Jordan, said the Legislature will listen.

"We're elected to represent the people," Waddoups said. "I definitely want to hear both the results and how the people react to them. ... We want to do what's best for the people living within the townships."

Contributing: Jared Page.

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