Both candidates vying to represent the Mercer District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors want to fight to preserve the character of their community in the face of what they say are the evils of growth.

"We are in an era when a great many of our traditions and values are threatened," said Democrat Thomas Dodson, the 38-year-old incumbent in the Nov. 3 election. "What is threatened is the destruction of our culture. I don't want to see Loudoun County become another McDonald's of suburbia."

And if Republican challenger G. Lawrence Moison could have his fondest wish, "The best of all worlds {would be to} close the door {on development} and lock it."

Mercer, bordered by the Dulles district to the east, the Blue Ridge district to the north, Clarke County to the west and Fauquier and Prince William counties to the south, has yet to see the significant influx of planned residential development that eastern Loudoun County has witnessed. Mercer, a district of large farms and estates, has the lowest density of development of all Loudoun's districts. Less commuter oriented, the district has a large community active in horse breeding and fox hunting.

Residents of villages such as Middleburg fear that their way of life will be forced to change, the candidates say.

Dodson and Moison are concerned with the impact of development on limited resources, such as water. In Mercer water for homes is supplied by private wells.

Beyond these positions, the candidates agree on few issues and the campaign has taken on an increasingly aggressive tone.

Moison said Dodson exhibited a "herd" instinct when he voted in favor of increasing the county budget. He maintains Dodson has been unresponsive to constituents and has taken no initiative in developing creative approaches to the county's problems.

"I would liken Moison to a well-known species of bird, the ostrich," Dodson said. "He buries his head in the sand doing budget arithmetic, while the larger issue of the cost of growth goes on around him . . . . He uses bits and pieces of information trying to play to the crowd, without discussing the full range of issues."

Moison, a financial consultant and former president of the Loudoun County Taxpayers Association, blames the board of supervisors for encouraging developers and creating the climate for uncontrolled growth. "The land speculators and developers are hovering over this county like vultures," Moison said.

According to Moison, 58, the supervisors have repeatedly ignored the county's comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances. In doing so, Moison says, they have allowed the growth that has created the county's traffic problems and pushed up property values so that residents cannot afford their taxes and young couples cannot afford housing.

"You can't sit down and eat two gallons of ice cream without having a problem afterwards," said Moison, a Mercer resident of 15 years. "The county can't take in 3,000 homes and not feel the effects."

Moreover, the developers are not paying for the results of their growth, he said. "Developers come in and county residents have to foot the bill."

Moison didn't restrict his criticisms to the supervisors and the developers. The county staff and budget have grown far too large in this decade, he said, noting that Loudoun's population has increased by about 25 percent in eight years, while the county budget leaped by six times that amount.

Dodson, the president of Northern Virginia Gas Co. and a supervisor for seven years, dismisses many of Moison's comments as rhetoric. "I am afraid that he has a simplistic knowledge of the land use laws that the county board of supervisors have to operate within," he said.

The board, Dodson said, has not created the climate for uncontrolled growth. "Loudoun County is less than 30 miles from the center of Washington," he said. "This expanding area has brought tremendous job growth and as a result has put tremendous pressure on the western suburban counties."

Dodson, who says that he has worked to protect the culture and life style of Mercer, stressed that his record on the board has been one of pressing for more concessions from developers and trying to plan and control growth so that it is sensitive to the limited natural and cultural resources of Loudoun.

"But unfortunately Virginia law is not supportive in that regard," said Dodson, a former mayor of Middleburg. Virginia law severely limits the ability of local governments to deny developers project requests, especially when public sewerage and water are available.

Dodson claims the board has been vocal in trying to get developers to take more fiscal responsibility for the aftermath of their projects. County officials have gone to the Virginia General Assembly several times to get legislation, but the developers have a powerful lobby of their own in Richmond and have been able to sidestep such efforts, he said.

On taxes, Dodson emphasized that Loudoun has the lowest tax rate in Northern Virginia and that the supervisors have attempted to encourage a mix of commercial and residential development. Residential development requires more services from the county than commercial development, which generally pays more in taxes than it requires in services.

Dodson says Moison's figures on the increase of the budget are wrong and noted that growth had been the major factor in determining the county staff. He said that the school budget takes up two-thirds of the county budget: "There is no more important service than the education of our young."

Dodson, who had received $7,665 in contributions and spent $633 as of Aug. 15, expects total spending in the the campaign not to exceed current contributions. Moison had received $2,270 in contributions as of Aug. 15 and spent $707. He expects to spend about $6,500 in the campaign.

While the issues in this race involve millions of dollars, in some ways this is still a down-home country campaign. "We are having a good time," Moison said. "We have been having coffees, addressing volunteer departments and the various clubs, like the Ruritan."

"My campaign is a people-to-people campaign," Dodson said. "I have a great number of friends who know my record. They are doing my campaign for me."