It was late on the night of the first public hearing on the proposed 1979 Fairfax County budget, a spending program of well over a half billion dollars, when a man in a black suit held up a Dr. Seuss children's book, open to a page with a painting of a pink and yellow tree.

Thomas W. Schaaf had been allotted three minutes to tell the Board of Supervisors how to run the county, and he proceeded to ask the supervisors and 20 or so blurry-eyed spectators if they had ever seen a "truffula" tree.

Schaaf, a management consultant and sometime substitute teacher, wanted to make a point about uncontrolled county growth. The picture of the "truffula" tree illustrated "The Lorax," a tale about a money-hungry industrialist who chops down all such trees in the land and makes them into shapeless sweaters.

Schaaf later explained that he had seen "The Lorax" stop fourth graders from wiggling and figured that it would hold the supervisors' attention while he made his point.

He was among 60 county residents who appeared before the supervisors over the past three nights to ask for less government, lower taxes, better services, more money for favorite programs and, on occasion, to spout off seemingly about anything that came to mind.

During the three nights, the supervisors were described as "political animals," county government was called a "two-headed monster," and citizens said they were tired of the same "flimflam," "hodgepodge" and "old bull manure."

Democracy in action. The time-honored American tradition of a citizen telling his local government how best to govern. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat who observed local government at work in the United States in the 1830s, spoke reverently of such participation.

By participating in municipal institutions, de Tocqueville wrote, a citizen 'acquires a taste for order, comprehends the mutual play of concurrent authorities and collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights."

After the first public hearing on the proposed budget, which calls for a 15 percent increase in county spending without increasing the property tax rate (taxes would go up anyway because of increased assessments), a woman who belongs to the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance expressed sentiments at odds with de Tocqueville's appreciation of the goodness of public meetings.

"Nothing here but damn beggars and arrogant totalitarians," she said.

Her characterization of the people who attended the budget hearings was inaccurate. The people who took several hours of their time to appear before the supervisors "could be broken into two basic groups: those who want something and those who are tired of paying for those people who get something.

Harley M. Williams, a retired appeals examiner for the U.S. Civil Service Commission and president of the antispending Taxpayers Alliance, was one of those speakers who are tired of paying. Williams said he spent 20 hours preparing his five-page, single-spaced analysis of why tax are too high, government growth is too fast and county employes are paid too much.

He pointed out that Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, the Disty and Prince George's County are trict of Columbia, Montgomery Coun-considering a tax rate reduction. He asked in capital letters (on his written statement) why the supervisors did not support lower taxes for single-family homes.

The supervisors, seven of whom say they support a tax cut this year, were sympathetic to William's tax statement.

Encouraged, Williams moved on. The 10 minutes he was allotted as the spokesman for a countywide organization ran out. Board Chairman John F. Herrity asked politely if Williams could sum up. Williams replied. "I don't think I can." He didn't, and he finished reading his statement.

People in the category of wanting something were generally specific, well-organized and humble.

The Commission for Women wanted more money for its executive director and for the women's shelter.

County employes wanted a 7.1 percent wage increase to keep up with the cost of living, instead of the 5.5 percent offered them in the proposed budget.

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee wanted more money to hire another psychologist. The present psychologist, who used to treat 37 inmates a month, now is treating 127 a month, a coordinating committee spokesman said.

The supervisors listened politely to those who wanted something, occasionally saying that the supplicant had a good point, occasionally asking a question that one antitax speaker said was the burden of all "political animals" - how do you tax less and spend more?

The supervisors, in budget workshops over the next month, are scheduled to address that question.

Near the end of the second night of the budget hearings Michael Logiurato, a retired statistician who has been complaining about spending for years at budget hearings, recited a song that didn't rhyme. He called it a takeoff on "Sixteen Tons."

The song, which might have evoked tears of democratic joy from de Tocqueville, went like this:

"You mine 16 tons and what do you get? I owe my soul to Uncle Sam. What the federal government doesn't get, the state and local government does."