Montgomery County Council members said yesterday they were voluntarily putting a proposal to limit property taxes on the November ballot because they feared a more drastic referendum favored by county taxpayer groups would threaten programs and services.

But County Executive Sidney Kramer roundly criticized the move, and said the only thing worrying council members is reelection.

"It's politics plain and simple," said Kramer of the agreement between four members of the council -- the number needed to put a measure on the ballot -- and leaders of the Fairness in Taxation group, known as FIT.

Under the agreement, unveiled at a news conference yesterday, the council will place on the ballot a proposal to limit the increase in property tax revenue to the rate of inflation. In return, the taxpayers group would not press for its own initiative to limit property tax increases to 75 percent of inflation.

The county's action would be the first victory for the taxpayer revolt that has swept Washington and its suburbs. Huge increases in property assessments have residents in counties from Fairfax to Anne Arundel demanding cuts in the property tax rate.

Montgomery would become the first to see a permanent form of tax relief placed on this year's ballot, and the measure apparently would be the only one embraced by elected officials.

Officials in Fairfax County and Baltimore County have gone to court in efforts to keep tax protest measures off the ballot. Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer, who is leaving office after two terms, has pledged to personally lead the charge against a measure expected on the ballot there that would roll back and then limit the amount of property tax revenue the government could collect each year.

Frederick T. Dykes, leader of Fairfax County's tax rebellion, praised the move by Montgomery officials.

"They are listenting to what the taxpayers have to say in Montgomery County," said Dykes. He added that "in Virginia, where we collected 50,000 signatures, the county government is fighting us in court. Why is it different in Maryland?"

Montgomery Council President William E. Hanna Jr. said the agreement strikes a balance between the demands of residents for tax relief and the need for government to have the flexibility to deal with problems. Hanna said he would vote along with members Bruce T. Adams, Isiah Leggett and Neal Potter to place the question on the ballot and would actively campaign for it.

The agreement is still subject to a final council vote. Montgomery already has cut its tax rate by 16.5 cents.

Kramer and other Montgomery politicians -- including council members who did not go along with the agreement -- said council elections are behind the compromise. All the council members, except for Potter, are contested in their reelection campaigns. Potter entered the race for county executive last night, filing to challenge Kramer, a fellow Democrat, in the Sept. 11 primary.

"Yes, this is political, but it's not political political," said Hanna. He said "political political" is when an official does something to get elected, while "political" is doing what is best for the county.

Hanna said he is convinced the compromise is in the county's best interest because the taxpayers group would have placed its own proposal on the ballot.

"Why didn't we let {the taxpayers} go and fight it to the death?" asked Hanna. Because "we might fight to the death but we would still lose."

Kramer disagreed, saying that the taxpayer revolt has lost its momentum. He said that already a diverse group of community organizations -- including the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the county Chamber of Commerce and county employee labor unions -- have lined up to defeat the proposal.

A similar coalition helped to defeat a 1978 measure that would have cut taxes and limited government spending in Montgomery.

Council member Adams said that the 1978 measure was rejected because voters were presented with a rival proposal by the council. Instead of cutting the tax rate, the council-backed measure changed the charter to control increases in the annual budget.

Adams, who said he doesn't like to change the charter, said the compromise is the best strategic solution.

"It's not a meat-ax approach," said Adams, "but it will have a bite."

The provision would allow an override of the limit with seven votes of the new nine-member council.

At least one other tax measure, limiting the tax rate, will be on the November ballot, and county attorneys are trying to figure out what will happen if both are approved.