Claude J. Bradshaw has no evidence, but he has a hunch that whoever smashed the mailbox outside his Prince William County home one night recently doesn't like his opposition to the county's $5.4 million library bond referendum.

"They say it happens all the time," said Bradshaw, who served as Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb's Northern Virginia media coordinator during last year's campaign. "Out here, when they get mad, they smash your mailbox."

There are a lot of angry people in western Prince William County right now. Maybe one of them might be angry enough to smash a mailbox. But there are also some pretty angry bond opponents who are not above dredging up old conflict-of-interest charges in an effort to embarrass a county supervisor supporting the issue, scheduled for a vote Tuesday.

And that makes Supervisor Don White, who represents the area in the western end of the county where one of two new libraries would be built, angry, too. "They're trying to muddy the waters," he stormed last week. "I can't believe they're stooping to that level."

In Prince William, a county of 144,000 just 20 miles west of Washington, politics has often been a knuckle-sandwich affair, and the fight over the proposed $1 million library for the western end of the county is proving to be no different.

Many residents, who feel that their needs were long neglected by county government, find themselves sparring with neighbors who fear that the proposed library might open their still largely rural neck of the woods to intense development.

"To fight a library is to me just preposterous," said Betty Duley, a county native and one of those actively campaigning for the new facility. "It's very vicious."

At the center of the controversy is a library that would house about 38,000 books, provide seating space for 76 readers, and be located in the heart of western Prince William, just north of the tiny (population 233) community of Haymarket. Its location would cut driving time to a county library for most area residents from 45 to 15 minutes.

A second facility on the referendum, costing $3.8 million and located in the more populated eastern end, is less controversial.

"My little boy just sits and cries because I can't take him to the library when it starts to snow," said Duley. "It's too far and the roads get too bad."

Opponents of the bond issue, like Bradshaw, insist there are other, just as acceptable sites available.

"It was given to the county by some developers who want to build a shopping center," said Bradshaw, a member of the Taxpayers' Association for Prudent Spending. "They can't build unless they get sewer. By putting a library in there, it opens up the chance for them to get sewer and water."

Sewers may have to be brought into the area eventually if the library is built, Bradshaw and others charge, because its 3-acre site doesn't perk -- that is, sewage from the building can't be safely absorbed and broken down by the surrounding soil. As a result, a lengthy section of pipe will have to be laid to pump the effluent to a nearby perkable site, he says.

Proponents dispute what they call the opponents'"domino theory" of development.

"The library is not going to have the effect of causing any expansion of growth out there," said Supervisor White, who denies his past business ties with the shopping center developers had any impact on the county's library decision. "The owners of the tract have the zoning . . . to build their shopping center. If the market doesn't warrant it, a library's not going to make it happen."

As for other sites, Bruce Ramsey, chairman of the library board, says two sites rated more highly by a citizens' advisory group proved not to be as workable. One, a park site, was restricted by federal regulations, while another was in an area that could eventually contain industrial development.

Bradshaw said he fears the bond issue will be approved, even though he believes most people oppose it, because the county's 43,500 voters have a poor turnout record for such votes.

"Last year for a county courthouse referendum costing $6.9 million, only 3,836 turned out," he said, noting that "1,943 voted 'yes' and 1,893 voted 'no'. The issue passed by 50 votes."