Stafford County officials were busy last week trying to determine what their rapidly growing county 40 miles south of Washington stood to gain--and lose--from the county's inclusion in the proposed new Washington-Arlington Metropolitan Statistical Area.

"The first thing we thought of was, 'What does it mean to us?'" said county assistant administrator William C. Porter Jr. "It impacts on several areas and one of the things it does from an economic standpoint is the obvious growth in the market area.

"But we haven't really had a chance to look at all of it," Porter said.

Stafford and two Maryland counties, Frederick and Calvert, were included in the MSA proposed to go into effect June 30 because of changes in the criteria that determine whether a jurisdiction may be included as part of an MSA.

Under the new rules, a county need only have 15 percent of its workers employed in the area's "central counties," such as Arlington or Fairfax, instead of in the area's "core," which would have been Washington itself, as the rules now state.

They will go into effect barring local appeals by the jurisdictions.

For Stafford, a county of about 43,000 people and 277 square miles, the inclusion promises to be a mixed bag of good and bad, officials say. On the one hand, for instance, it could mean the loss of low-interest loans to farmers through Farmers Home Administration programs. On the other, Stafford could suddenly become eligible for an infusion of other government dollars, like community development block grants under the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Peggy Wagner, Stafford's director of planning and community development, said that there are other advantages, too. The county, for instance, would be included in detailed statistical data that the officials could use in improved community planning.

"During the last decade, we grew about 66 percent. What happened was that the county was very small and was not prepared for that growth," Wagner said. "We had subdivisions and roads being built all over the place without planning."

The proposed designation is also attractive to the county planner because it would likely bring new business to the mostly residential community, she said. Becoming a part of the MSA could mean, for example, a membership in the Washington metropolitan area board of trade, an inducement to many industries because it is a credential that ties Stafford to the metropolitan area, Wagner said.

Overall, assistant administrator Porter said, "it's a two-way street. We need to find out what it means to us in terms of what it does to rural areas and the farmers and what it means in terms of economic development."

Wagner said some farmers are likely to oppose the new designation.

"Some of the natives may be alarmed by the announcement. Even the designation 'urban' is a little scary to them. They like to think of themselves as mostly rural," she said.

Stafford farmers work 28,462 acres, which amount to 16.5 percent of the county's total land area. The average farm in the county is valued at $214,515 and is about 156 acres.

Porter said the county first learned about the proposals through the media and said he and other administrators were still waiting for an official notification.

"Personally I didn't expect it to happen this quick," Porter said.