The Alexandria City Council, faced with increasing economic constraints, approved budget guidelines last night limiting the size of the municipal work force and holding spending to the recent rate of inflation.

A resolution adopted unanimously calls for limiting the spending increase to 6.1 percent, the amount the region's consumer price index rose in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30. The current city budget totals $269.6 million.

The resolution is intended to guide the process of adopting a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Although it states the aim of freezing the 1,940-employee work force, it gives City Manager Vola Lawson permission to expand to meet the city's needs.

Alexandria's budget problem, grounded in the economic slowdown and the prospect of decreasing state aid, is one confronting many jurisdictions in the region.

In Prince William County, where a slowing real estate market is expected to result in a $17 million revenue shortfall, officials announced a month-long hiring freeze last week. In Fairfax County, officials are facing a projected budget shortfall of $60 million.

"We are confronted with an ever-tightening fiscal outlook," said council member Kerry J. Donley (D), who proposed the resolution along with council member T. Michael Jackson (D).

Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said, "We're not telling people what they want to hear, but we are telling them what they need to know."

The council's resolution asks city school officials to abide by the limit on increased spending. The council funds more than 70 percent of the school budget.

School officials said last week that they were studying several potentially severe cost-cutting measures, including teacher layoffs, expanding class size and contracting for some noninstructional services.

That set the stage for what some city officials say could be a nasty confrontation between the council and parents, teachers and school officials.

Jackson called the school board's cost-cutting suggestions Draconian and said that if school officials are attempting to pressure the council, "it won't work."