A divided Montgomery County task force rejected yesterday the concept of a comparable worth pay system and urged the County Council to set salaries instead on the basis of the competitive market value of the jobs.

The Compensation Task Force, created by the County Council in 1983 to look at a variety of wage issues, voted 4 to 3 to recommend that the council not establish a panel to study comparable worth, which supporters of the concept have been seeking. But in an appendix attached to the task force's recommendations, one comparable worth supporter said it would ease the current imbalance in the county pay structure, where women earn 16 percent less than men.

"The key issue has been whether a job evaluation system can be established which truly evaluates the relative worth of different jobs," the task force's report states. "The task force has struggled with this question and has concluded that the wages which are paid for different jobs must, in the long run, reflect the balance of supply and demand for labor."

Comparable worth proposals have been promoted by women's groups across the country as a means of narrowing the wage gap between men and women by providing "equal pay for work of comparable value." Opponents argue that it is impossible to assess the value of individual jobs.

Task force member Charles L. Betsey, who voted against a comparable worth study, said he does not think it would come to grips with discrimination in the county.

"Discrimination may be one reason for disparities in salaries," he said. "But there are disparities for a variety of reasons. Discrimination may be a minor one. It's hard to judge."

Task force member Robert R. Fredlund voted in favor of a study because he thinks the county needs a uniform pay scale. "It doesn't make sense to have five different agencies with 17 different pay scales," Fredlund said.

The council is expected to take up the issue at its Aug. 8 meeting.

The task force was formed to evaluate the salaries and benefits of employes of the county government, schools, Montgomery College, and the two agencies that Montgomery and Prince George's counties jointly staff, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Its recommendations on comparable worth were part of a three-volume report on county salaries.

The minority appendix states that women in Montgomery County government are paid 84 cents on the dollar compared with the salaries of men. There are no figures listed for the other agencies.

That difference prompted a renewed call for the comparable worth study by proponents of the concept. "I doubt all of the 20 or so cents making up the difference is due to discrimation, but it's certainly there," said Carol Mathews, chairwoman of Women in Nursing, a group of county nurses who have fought for salaries comparable to other professional county jobs for nearly two years.

Other task force recommendations include: Distributing cost-of-living adjustments on the basis of merit instead of automatically giving equitable adjustments to all personnel. This could result in some employes receiving adjustments lower than the rate of inflation, according to Margaret Knill, liaison between the County Council and the task force. Taking immediate steps to raise salaries of Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission employes who are paid salaries below the median for other county agencies and neighboring government jurisdictions.