Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker (R) said yesterday that the property tax rate would have to be increased by about 25 percent next year if the county wanted to match its current level of spending.

In a speech to Columbia business leaders, Ecker said the county projects it will take in about $255 million next year in property taxes and other revenue. That is about $31 million shy of what the county projected it would take in for the current fiscal year.

It would take a 62-cent increase in the county's property tax rate of $2.45 per $100 of assessed value to make up the difference, Ecker said. Each penny on the tax rate raises about $500,000.

Ecker has ruled out a property tax increase of that size. He said even a 30-cent tax increase would be too much. "What, do you want to see me hung?" he said in an interview.

Ecker said some combination of a tax increase and budget cuts will be necessary to make ends meet. He declined to go into any detail about his budget proposals until he holds a news conference on fiscal matters Tuesday.

"I certainly hope we can maintain services, but I don't think we are going to make everyone happy," Ecker said.

The county's poor revenue picture is expected to be felt first by school officials, who began debating a proposed $200.8 million fiscal 1992 school budget last night. A retired school administrator, Ecker has said that the school system's proposed budget, an 11.8 percent increase over current spending, is "money we don't have."

School officials said they need the increase to meet the demands of a growing system. About 1,000 new students are expected next year, and officials plan to open two new schools.

The county is struggling to trim this year's county operating budget by up to $20 million because of a revenue drop brought on by the slumping economy, which has depressed transfer taxes, income taxes and the expected increase in assessments. By law, the county must end the fiscal year with a balanced budget. Ecker said he might have to take the unprecedented step of borrowing money to make up the difference.

This year's shortfall means there will be no money left over for the new year. A budget surplus of more than $25 million last year helped county officials cut the tax rate by 4 cents per $100 of assessed value.