In Montgomery County, where cash is tight these days, the top managers in one county department have decided to put their money where the problem is.

The head of Montgomery's Department of Social Services and 10 other officials said that because of the fiscal crunch facing the county, they will give up a 6.2 percent pay increase that each is set to receive next year.

"It just seemed the natural thing to do," said Social Services Director Robert Caulk. "We wanted to wring out absolutely any expense to preserve jobs and services to the community."

He estimated that the the move will save the county $50,000 -- an amount that he said translates into 20 day-care slots or 35 home day-care subsidies for the elderly. Caulk, who is paid $87,115 a year, stands to lose about $5,000, although the amount may vary because part of his salary is funded by the state.

The offer to sacrifice pay raises is apparently the first in the region as state and local governments wrestle with gaping budget deficits caused by a slowdown in the economy.

Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein floated the idea in recent weeks that top state officials give up the big pay raises they are scheduled to receive, but the response was less than overwhelming.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who will see his annual salary go from $80,000 to $120,000 on Jan. 1, was asked at last week's news conference whether he would forgo his raise as a symbolic gesture.

"Well, did you get one?" he demanded of the reporter who asked the question.

"Yeah," said the reporter.

"Yeah, okay, what's next?" said Schaefer.

Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter said he would be pleased to donate part of his salary to help the county's budget problems, but he's not sure yet what he gets paid. He said he has not received a paycheck as executive, and he is not sure when the cost-of-living increase approved by the council takes effect. His predecessor was paid $86,021.

Isiah Leggett, president of the Montgomery County Council, said he was "very delighted to hear" of the offer by the Montgomery managers. He said he hadn't talked to the rest of the council members to see if they might want to give up their cost-of-living increases.

Council members last May voted to keep their pay at $47,423, but agreed to allow cost of living increases.

Leggett said that what the community needs from council members is not the "symbolic gesture" of small cuts, but "the political will to do the budget cutting that needs to be done."

The disclosure of the managers' offer was first reported in yesterday's Montgomery Journal.

Leaders of unions representing county employees and teachers rejected any suggestion that their members give up their raises.

"There is a problem when year after year, the first place that elected officials look to balance the budget is to cut back on negotiated pay increases. It should be the last place they look, not the first place," said Mark Simon, head of the union representing about 7,000 teachers.

Gino Renne, an officer with the union representing government workers, said the suggestion that the county can solve its problems by taking from the employees is "ludicrous." He noted that the average pay of county workers is $30,000 to $35,000.