In an unexpected turnaround, Montgomery County Council Vice President William E. Hanna Jr. introduced legislation yesterday that would reverse a Jan. 14 council decision to impose user fees on organized athletic groups playing on county fields.
Hanna, chairman of a council committee that had recommended the fees to help with field maintenance costs, said he was now supporting the measure to do away with all fees on county fields because he recognized the hardship the fees would impose on some players and the social benefit derived from "character-building outlets for pent-up energies."
His decision follows a meeting Friday with representatives of local and county recreation departments and several athletic groups that had strongly opposed the fees.
"We arrived at an understanding and an agreement," Hanna said yesterday. "I believe this resolution does meet the major objections and objectives of both sides."
Gordon Martin, an official of Montgomery Soccer Inc., an 8,000-player soccer league that had argued that the fees would prohibit some players from participating, said he was pleased. "We feel fantastic" about the reversal, he said.
Hanna also said he felt that the user fees would have "a chilling effect" on county sport and recreation activities, contradicting recent county commitments to promote fitness, referring to a recent well-publicized county fitness promotion event attended by retired boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist and the council.
The measure generally met with approval among the council members with Rose Crenca and Neal Potter voicing support.
"I commend Mr. Hanna for continuing his thinking on this," council member Scott Fosler said, after criticizing the way the decision originally had been handled by the council.
"The council tried to establish a policy and was not able to" so it went ahead and imposed fees, Fosler said.
The council's decision to impose fees on Jan. 14 simply extended the current practice of charging users of county swimming pools and ice skating rinks. The action did not include guidelines for applying the fees.
Final action on Hanna's resolution is scheduled for the council's regular session Feb. 26.
Despite his change of mind, Hanna said he still supports the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission decision to charge fees for the regional parks in Montgomery and Prince George's counties over which it has jurisdiction. The commission set the fees on Jan. 14.
But Hanna's measure recommends that the commission, which comprises representatives of the Prince George's and Montgomery counties planning boards, charge fees only to persons aged 18 and older, instead of separate fees for youths and adults currently in effect.
The county fields are used primarily by children, but the regional parks are often used by adult athletic teams.