The Montgomery County that elected Neal Potter as county executive differs in some respects from the community that Potter will lead when he takes office Monday.

Anger over the swift pace of development and outrage over taxes, which fueled Potter's miracle race for Montgomery's highest office, have been usurped by fears of a coming recession. And a county known for its wealth faces the unheard of prospect of making do with less.

Potter, 75, a stalwart of Montgomery civic and political life, must sort out the sometimes mixed messages and needs of Maryland's largest jurisdiction when he becomes the county's fourth executive in inaugural ceremonies Monday.

Deepening economic woes virturally assure that the early years of Potter's new government will be preoccupied with the politics of retrenchment. Cuts in services loom and Potter doesn't rule out anything. County employees could be laid off, the school system could lose ground in some of its prized programs and social services could suffer.

Potter sees three basic ways out of the problems: other sources of revenue, increases in the property tax and cuts in services. He wants to raise money from different taxes but knows his tax proposals will bring protests from "the special interests."

"The question is will we have the political courage," Potter said.

The elevation of Potter, a man of unorthodox ways and policies, to the $86,021-a-year post typifies a fundamental change in Montgomery political life.

Potter was never part of the governing Democratic elite, and his victory over incumbent Sidney Kramer in the Democratic primary creates a new political establishment.

The County Council that will serve with Potter is also different. It is expanded this year from seven to nine members, five of whom will represent -- and be answerable to -- small geographic districts. For the first time in 20 years, Republicans will serve on the council and four of the members are women.

On the Board of Education, four new members -- including the board's first Asian American and Hispanic members -- take office Monday and are expected to imbue the board with a new assertiveness. The top adminstration of the schools also could see a shake-up if school Superintendent Harry Pitt decides not to seek, or is denied, renewal of his contract.

"It's a unique time in Montgomery government," said former County Council member Scott Fosler, "a changing political equation in the context of broader economic and political trends."

If Potter is overwhelmed by the hurdles ahead, he doesn't show it. The hallmarks of the Potter style -- low-key, methodical and almost pedantic -- are evident when he talks about his political agenda.

"I will apply myself pretty hard to the fiscal situation and the growth policy. I will try to figure out these problems and get acceptance from the County Council and our county delegation to Annapolis in responding to these problems," he said.

Because Potter accomplished what was widely seen as a political miracle in knocking off a formidable incumbent, some are expecting equally remarkable accomplishments from his administration, a fact that concerns Potter.

"A lot of people are still expecting the impossible. I don't promise to deliver on those," he said.

Montgomery's biggest problem -- and the thorniest issue for Potter -- is one of money.

Shortfalls in county revenue have already created a budget deficit that could be as large as $72 million this year, and next year could mean a gap of more than $100 million. A hiring freeze has been imposed, travel and purchases have been curtailed and some county department heads privately say they are expecting the kind of layoffs that have hit counties such as Prince George's.

"My sense is this is the real thing," said Family Resources Director Charles Short.

At the same time, the demand for services is increasing.

"We are looking at another 4,000 children or more next year on top {of} what we have this year," said county budget director Robert Kendal. School board member Blair Ewing sees a student population of 130,000, up from the current 103,772, by the middle to late 1990s. "These aren't future children. They are here and they need teachers and classrooms and books," said Ewing.

Nearly half of the county budget goes to the schools, and county and school officials see some of the biggest budget struggles on the school turf. Potter was a strong advocate for the schools while on the council, and he had the important backing of the teachers in his race for executive.

However, some officials in the school system privately say they are wary about the coming round of budget talks and are afraid such goals as reducing class size will be endangered.

The current situation is in sharp contrast to when Kramer took office four years ago. The economy then was at full throttle; money was pouring in, and the county, ending eight years of relative austerity under Charles Gilchrist, undertook a massive program of school and road construction. New police officers were added and social service programs were strengthened.

"It wasn't a question of doing A or B, you could do both," said one administration official.

Potter flatly says expansion of progams is out and he said that unless the county comes up with new sources of revenue, existing programs are threatened. Potter candidly talks, as he did during the campaign, about the need to increase taxes on gasoline and car registration. He defends past proposals to assess taxes on new development and on employee parking spaces.

"If people want these programs, they have to pay the bills," said Potter, who is an ardent foe of increasing property tax bills.

"Let's not forget the taxpayers' revolt of 1990 or of 1978 for that matter," he said.

"I don't think people are expecting miracles." said Gene Lynch, Potter's special assistant.

"They have high expectations, most definitely. But I think most of all they want someone who is going to level with them," he added.

"If he is nothing else, Neal Potter is believable."


BUDGET GAP: Shortfalls in county revenue could mean a budget gap as large as $72 million this year and could grow to more than $100 million next year. County Executive-Elect Neal Potter is expected to push for added taxes on gasoline and car registrations. He must present a capital improvements budget by January.

TROLLEY: Uncertainty surrounds the future of trolley system planned for an old railroad bed between Silver Spring and Bethesda. Potter wants state money promised for the project to be used for more pressing transportation projects, but it is doubtful that state officials would allow such a shift. Potter said the project will be assessed in light of a state study on costs and ridership and is due for release in January.

INCINERATOR: Potter also wants to reevaluate plans to build a trash-to-energy incinerator in Dickerson. Potter has been a strong proponent of using a quarry in north Potomac for a landfill, but a majority of council members oppose the suggestion.

GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT: Potter is expected to draw up a series of initiatives to streamline the county's planning process and revamp the Office of Economic Development. He wants to reduce the executive's role in planning, while tightening standards on development.

JAIL: The County Council must decide whether to pursue plans to build a new jail. The council has tentatively designated Clarksburg as a site, but critics want to consider other sites.

LABOR: The executive and council will be faced with negotiating a new contract with police officers. There are nearly 900 officers in the department.