Maryland health officials have cited the Montgomery County government for "numerous violations" that they say are "indicative of incompetence" in the management of a controversial and costly new garbage dump in rural Laytonsville.

In a strongly worded notice delivered to the county Thursday and released yesterday, the state's director of waste management administration ordered the county to correct deficiencies or risk being ordered to find a new operator for the landfill, which opened June 1. The dump is operated by Browning-Ferris Industries on contract with the county.

The alleged deficiencies at the 550-acre site range from excess water collecting in the landfill to insufficient dirt covering garbage dumped at the site.

The state officials' conclusion that those problems could pose "a menace to the health and comfort" of nearby residents is bound to provide new ammunition for the landfill's opponents, who waged a long and unsuccessful battle to keep the $40 million garbage dump out of their residential up-county neighborhood and are now trying to get it closed down.

County officials released a copy of the state letter to them along with their response, in which they said the problems were basically "technical violations" and not threatening to the residents. Charles Maier, county information officer, said the county's position was that the strong words used in the letter--words like "incompetence" and "menace"--amounted to bureaucratic verbal overkill.

But Robert Nelson, the state's waste management director, said he stood by the strong language. "It's a fact of life," he said. "One that does not operate a facility properly is incompetent."

"This is not just legal jargon . . . . We said exactly what we mean," Nelson said. "What we have cited them for is failure to comply with the conditions of the State Health Department permit. Any violation of those conditions could affect health and safety."