Alexandria Mayor Frank E. Mann, proposed a major cut in the city's real estate tax rate that he said would reduce the current $88 million budget by as much as $5 million.

Mann suggested that the tax rate, a controversial issue in next Tuesday's citywide elections, be dropped from the existing $1.54 to as little to $1.25 or $1.30 for each $100 of assessed value.

That would be far less than the $1.47 rate recommended recently by City Manager Douglas Harmon and now under consideration by the Alexandria City Council.

Outgoing Vice Mayor Nora Lamborne yesterday branded Mann's proposal "irresponsible leadership." Lamborne, who has endorsed Mann's opponent, Charles E. Beatley, said Mann's suggestion "raises serious questions about the future of our city . . . it will deprive our citizens of needed services and result in the firing of many city employes."

In a memo to Mann and city council members written on official city stationery, Lamborne also criticized the mayor for failing to specify which city services he would cut.

"I believe the mayor's $1.25 tax rate is an act of irresponsible leadership," she wrote. "It is also unfair . . . because it creates the illusion of a large scale tax reduction without ever coping with the hard facts and issues of eliminating programs and staffing."

Lamborne speculated that the cuts would come in allocations for the city's schools, and in programs for senior citizens and the recreation department.

Mann could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Lamborne noted that Mann had made a similar tax rate proposal on the final day of last year's budget planning sessions, several of which he had missed because he was on a fishing trip in Bimini. "Certainly, twelve months (since the last budget sessions) should have been sufficient time for him to make specific suggestions" as to which programs should be cut. "However, I do not recall him ever making such specific recommendations, except perhaps in the Social Service Department," which Mann has frequently criticized as being inefficient, Lamborne wrote.

Last month the council received four proposed budgets from city manager Harman, all of which called for property tax rate reductions, ranging from $1.47 to $1.35. Harman recommended the $1.47 figure. The council since then has held public hearings on the budget, and is due to set the tax rate within the next several weeks.

At those meetings, 'Mann has not said precisely what he thought the tax rate should be.

"It is reasonable to assume that any one calling for drastic budget cuts at this late date should be prepared to recommend precisely where in the budget the cuts should be made . . . I fear the mayor's proposed tax rate," Lamborne wrote.

Homeowners, who must pay taxes based on generally rising assessments, constitute 25 percent of the city's population, but contribute 60 percent of the budget revenues. They have emerged in recent years as a potent political force in the city.

Mayoral candidate Beatley yesterday called Mann's proposal "the height of irresponsibility."