Organized athletic groups using park playing fields in Montgomery County will pay a user fee starting next fall, the County Council decided in a preliminary vote yesterday.

The council set several "guideline fees" and vowed to take further action to clarify the policy, council member Esther Gelman said.

The guideline fees, charged to groups and leagues who reserve the county's fields, would include $1.50 to $3 an hour for soccer teams, depending on the age of the players, and $3 to $5 for 90 minutes of softball. The two opposing teams would split the fee.

The fees are to be used for the maintenance of the playing fields, the council said.

"No jurisdiction from Virginia to Maine charges for unlighted, unfenced fields," said Gordon Martin of Montgomery Soccer Inc., an 8,000-player nonprofit league in the county.

Montgomery Soccer would have to charge $8 on top of a player's yearly registration fee of $18 to $21 to cover the fees, Martin said.

The fees will drive some of Montgomery Soccer's special teams and other local sport groups to Fairfax and Prince George's counties, he added.

"The basic question is, should all taxpayers of Montgomery County have to pay to maintain special fields for special uses. Should the elderly paying for schools and libraries have to pay for fields, too?" Gelman said.

Noting that county-operated ice skating rinks and swimming pools charge fees, council member William Hanna said, "It does not seem too inequitable to me to have people who play other sports pay a fee."

Handicapped or disadvantaged groups won't have to pay the fees, Gelman said. She said they could receive passes from the recreation department.

Martin said his nonprofit group replaces damaged goal posts and reconditions school fields.