The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors backed away yesterday from a proposal, designed to make its bureaucracy more responsive, that could have given its four top executives annual salaries of more than $86,000 within two years.

The executive pay plan, similar to the federal Senior Executive Service, would have removed about 30 Fairfax officials from civil service protection while offering them the highest pay of any local government in the Washington area. Pay raises would have been based on performance instead of being automatic, and the nine elected supervisors and their appointed county executive would have had more freedom to hire, fire and transfer.

The supervisors voted yesterday to support the goals of the plan, and they criticized newspaper coverage they said gave too much emphasis to the salary levels that would result. But they specifically voted not to support the plan's recommended salary increases for outstanding performance, which the plan's author had described as a crucial element.

"I can't feel that our folks are underpaid," Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth said.

County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert now is paid $70,000 a year plus $4,500 in additional benefits, according to Fairfax officials. Under the proposed pay plan, he could have been paid as much as $89,383 two years from now if the supervisors decided he was performing well.

Top level presidential appointees, including cabinet secretaries, currently get a maximum of $69,630.

Several supervisors said salary levels were not the chief issue. They said an executive service would make the bureaucracy more responsive and accountable to their directives and those of the county executive.

Supervisor Nancy K. Falck said she hoped the board would not abandon the idea "because of an unfortunate article in the newspaper that made the quantum leap from what our concerns are to what we might pay people." The supervisors agreed to study the idea further.

Supervisors said privately, however, that they received considerable negative comment on the notion of major increases for top executives, especially when many Fairfax voters who work for the federal government are worried about losing their jobs. The board approved a motion by Supervisor Audrey Moore to junk the compensation elements of the plan, which provided the chief incentives for executives to give up their civil service protection. "The question is whether you can have a chicken without the egg, and I don't see how you can do that," Board Chairman John F. Herrity said when asked if the plan could work without the higher salaries for top performance.

Moore argued that the 23 percent annual raises would place top Fairfax executives at higher salary levels than their federal counterparts, encourage raises for mid-level employes and require higher taxes.