An article Tuesday incorrectly implied that Fairfax County Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III voted to approve a 5 percent pay raise for the county's top four executives. The vote was 6 to 0 in favor of the raise, with Davis, Board Chairman John F. Herrity and Supervisor Joseph Alexander out of the board room at the time of the vote.

A proposal to build a $72 million Fairfax County government center appears to be less popular with top county officials than at any time since a blue-ribbon commission endorsed the idea in 1978.

Although a referendum on the "Fairfax Civic Center" tentatively is scheduled to be on the ballot this fall, six of the county's nine elected supervisors say they believe the timing is wrong. Several, including Board Chairman John F. Herrity, say that the timing may never be right -- that the county should decentralize its government rather than build what Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth has called "monuments to bureaucracy."

Yesterday, with Herrity leading opponents, the county board debated the merits of the proposal for 90 minutes before finally deciding to delay final action for another two weeks before placing the referendum before the voters. The debate was the latest manifestation that the plan, on which the county already has spent $4 million, is in trouble.

One of the four architectural firms selected for a $100,000 design competition recently withdrew, saying that to relocate the government center to Fairfax's less developed western half would "contribute to the suburban sprawl already such a problem in the county."

"It's analogous to a guy who buys a suit that's a couple sizes too large and then eats himself into it," said Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican who represents the Mason District in eastern Fairfax. "I'm worried about the symbols and signals it would send out."

Several supervisors from fast-growing western Fairfax, including County Board Vice Chairman Martha V. Pennino, remain strong supporters of a new center, saying Fairfax has outgrown its 13-year-old headquarters in Fairfax City and a new complex would boost the county's economy. Pennino, a Democrat, and Springfield Supervisor Marie Travesky, a Republican, concede that the proposal may have to wait because of high interest rates and the depressed economy.

"I think the board is seriously underestimating the intelligence of the citizens of Fairfax County," said Michael S. Horwatt, the lawyer who chaired the first relocation study in 1978 and still supports such a move. "I think when the voters see it's going to save money rather than cost money, they will support it."

Some county staffers have wanted to move almost since the day the current administration center, the 12-story Massey Building, opened in 1969. Employes spend much of their time waiting for elevators, and parking has become a major problem. "The feeling is they made a mess of the Massey Building, and now they want to cut and run," said Warren Cox, the Washington architect who withdrew from the design competition.

In addition, the county's bureaucracy more than doubled, jumping to 6,600 workers from about 3,000 in 1970 as Fairfax's population grew from 454,000 to more than 600,000. To house those added workers, Fairfax will spend about $2.5 million this year renting space in privately owned buildings, according to general services director Fred K. Kramer.

The board originally considered moving both its courthouse and its administration center out of Fairfax City, which currently enjoys the taxes from the businesses that settle near government offices. Pressure from attorneys and landlords in Fairfax City, however, persuaded the board to build a new courthouse near the existing one.

Still, county officials believe they could create a cultural and economic complex in western Fairfax even without a courthouse, leaving the Massey Building as part of a "criminal justice center" in Fairfax City. They bought a 183-acre site for $3.9 million -- which opponents acknowledge could be recouped if the center is never built -- and spent several hundred thousand dollars more studying the idea.

Herrity and Davis said the county should go forward with the referendum, with or without a board endorsement, and decide the matter. "We ought to do it before we waste any more money on it," said Davis.