Over the objections of two of its members, the nine-member board of directors of the Reston Association voted last week to increase homeowners' annual dues by 26 percent next year to $300 per household, the largest increase in the history of the 25-year-old planned community.

About $59 of the $62 increase in homeowners' dues will be used to help finance Reston's community-owned swimming pools and tennis courts. Under the current system, about $20 of each resident's $238 annual dues go to recreation facilities, with the bulk of the operating costs covered by user fees.

Altogether, about $80 of each household's $300 dues next year will help finance recreation, whether or not the household uses the facilities.

The board decided to do away with the user fee system and rely entirely on annual dues because membership is declining at pools and tennis courts, generating too little revenue to cover operating costs. Membership has declined steadily over the past few years. This year, Reston officials were forced to use about $88,900 in reserve funds to offset a recreation budget shortfall. Officials expected to have to triple the subsidy next year.

Board member Dan McGuire says he is happy to see the user fees go. He says the ever-increasing fees discriminated against low- to middle-income families. Although a small portion of every homeowner's annual dues automatically went to fund recreation, many families could not afford to pay the user fees as well. "We were pricing people out of the market," McGuire said.

The average annual user fees currently are $231 for pools, $114 for tennis courts, and $327 for a package membership to pools, tennis courts and an athletic club. The board would have had to raise the user fees by 5 percent to 6 percent next year, officials said.

Under the new fee system, only the athletic club, which includes racquetball courts and other indoor facilities, will continue to charge user fees.

McGuire hopes that by charging all residents for recreation through their annual dues, the pools and tennis courts will become popular again. All dues-paying residents will be allowed to use the facilities without additional charge. "This will be getting our families back in the tennis courts and in the pools," he said.

However, board members Mac Murray and Martha Greene, echoing comments made by some residents at recent public meetings, criticized increasing homeowners' dues as unfair to residents who do not use the pools or tennis courts regularly.

"Anybody who does not use the facilities is basically paying . . . $80 a year toward that maintenance. Clearly, that is $80 they would rather not pay," Murray said.

Murray pointed out that earlier this year, in an advisory referendum on that matter that other board members dismissed because of the way the question was phrased, about 70 percent of respondents said they did not want the user fees for recreational facilities abolished.

"The fact {is} that the referendum took place. We asked the question, we got an answer and we ignored it. That bothers me," Murray said.

Murray said he also is concerned that by raising the annual dues by such a large percentage this year, the board has jeopardized the availability of annual dues for financing other major expenses, such as operating a pool and tennis courts planned for the North Hills neighborhood next year. The board of directors is limited in the level of dues it can charge homeowners.

"We're just way too close to our cap and it leaves no leeway for extraordinary increases in expenses over the next few years," Murray said.