For the past three years, a small but rather vocal minority of Motgomery County citizens has complained to the county government that they are constantly awakened in the pre-dawn hours by the grinding roar of garbage trucks in their suburban neighborhoods.

And for the past three years, the County Council, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Noise Control Board - and the trash collectors - have been trying to decide what can be done to control the noise problem.

County officials say they now have a solution: Prohibit trash collection within 1,000 feet of residences before 7 a.m.

However, county trash haulers say, that solution will lead to massive morning rush-hour traffic jams, drive up collection fees and turn most shopping centers into garbage dumps. There already is a tug-of-war developing between residents, members of the Noise Control Advisory Board and the men who collect the county's 1,500 tons of trash daily, to influence the county's final decision.

"Two hundred fifty to 300 trash trucks in rush hour - can you imagine it?" complained Irv Levine, owner of Industrial Disposal, who lobbied against the bill in the county executive's office recently. "Why the trucks will just be sitting there idle (in traffic) burning fuel. . . . It will be a big mess.

"The entire county should not have to pay the cost of letting (some) people sleep late."

But Fran Abrams, director of the Department of Environmental Protection, says the county is worried about the "psychological effects" the pre-dawn noise has on Montgomery County residents.

At a hearing recently on the proposed regulation, Col. Herbert J. O'Connor, of Chevy Chase, complained that the noise "tends to diminish life values, the things you value most when you move into an area."

Margaret Willett, of Wheaton, said the crashing and banging noise that the trucks make is bad for her husband's blood pressure and complained that a county ordinance is needed because citizens can get no cooperation when they complain to the refuse companies.

"I have called and called . . . the last time I complained, they asked me, 'What color is the truck?'" Willett said.

Since January 1977, there have been 82 complaints about the garbage truck noise, according to the county Air Pollution and Noise Control Office. But that figure, according to Dr. Robert Cunitz, a citizen member of the Noise Control Advisory Board, is "small tip of the iceberg."

"There are people who don't complain, who don't know where to complain. . . . But they are nonetheless annoyed," said Cunitz, a psychologist.

Cunitz added that most of the garbage trucks are violating the county noise control ordinance and that the proposal to limit collection hours is a better solution to the problem than sending county noise engineers into the streets before dawn to fine the garbage ment they catch "making noise in the act."

The loudest outcry against the proposal has come from trash collectors who serve businesses and shopping centers bordering residential areas. The proposed regulation would prohibit them from picking up garbage before 7 a.m. from business establishments and shopping centers that are within 1,000 feet of a residence.

Most of these trash collectors start their rounds at about 4 a.m. They say that if their starting hours are delayed, they won't be able to make as many stops in a day. That means garbage will begin piling up in shopping centers, businesses and restaurants, the trashmen say.

"It's not the (longer) hours that bother. . . It's the traffic," said Stan Levine as he drove along Rockville Pike recently.

Levine's yellow truck lifts metal dumpsters over its top to empty them. In the process, metal cans and glass bottles crash into the truck and Levine has to mechanically bang the metal dempster back and forth against the truck. All the while the truck - which stands about 12 feet high and is 20 feet long - makes a loud grinding noise.

The trashmen claim that they get 40 percent of their work done by 7 a.m. That is why, they say, they would be willing to try to solve the noise complaints on an individual basis, rather than comply with a blanket curfew.

Because their employes would conceivably have to work longer hours, the trash company owners say they might be forced to increase their customers' collection fees by about 60 percent.

Former county noise control engineer Richard Peppin's reply to that: "I don't believe one can put a cost on being awakened in the early morning hours two to three hours before schedule."