The D.C. Council rejected a proposed pay raise for firefighters yesterday, following the lead of Chairman John A. Wilson, who organized the vote and then rebuked Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon for her handling of the city's budget crisis.

Council members, ignoring a furious last-minute campaign of union leaders, voted unanimously in a committee of the whole meeting to turn down a 3 percent pay raise that Marion Barry approved for firefighters just before he left office Jan. 2. The council has scheduled a final vote on the raise Tuesday.

Dixon has said she is legally bound to support the raise because Barry approved it. However, her top aides said yesterday that she was pleased with the council's vote because the city cannot afford any raises.

Wilson argued that the raise, which would cost about $1.8 million this year, was an unrealistic expense for a city struggling with a budget deficit that may reach $300 million. He also said that since the council rejected pay raises for 20,000 other city workers last fall, it should not raise firefighters' pay.

"We have to act responsibly," said Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3), one of eight council members backing Wilson. "We have absolutely no idea where the money would come from . . . . I hope our unions realize we're in a tough bind."

It was not clear how unions would respond to the council vote yesterday. Most city workers are prohibited from striking. Union leaders met last week to discuss possible strategies.

Just before the council's vote, Wilson spent 15 minutes angrily accusing Dixon of sending him "mixed and false" signals on how she intends to reduce the budget deficit. He also suggested that Dixon was counting too heavily on obtaining $100 million in emergency aid from Congress.

"Her position seems to change every other day, at least in the press," Wilson said. "We've tried to support the positions of the mayor, and said we would not interfere . . . but I am no longer going to do that. I don't like the way this is being done."

Wilson offered few specifics in his criticism of Dixon. However, aides say he has been frustrated because he believes the mayor has not been clear on several points, including whether she supported or opposed the firefighters' pay raise.

Wilson aides also said the mayor has been vague in public statements and private conversations about whether she will endorse a tax increase or whether the council should repeal a controversial gun-control bill to improve its chances of getting emergency aid from Congress.

Dixon told reporters later that she had made all of her positions on the budget clear to Wilson, saying she was "at a loss to understand" his criticism. "I think we've been communicating," she said.

But Wilson repeated his criticism as he left the District Building. "I don't think we're communicating at all," he said.

The vote followed a show of solidarity on Monday by municipal union leaders, who vowed to push for pay increases in all city union contracts and fight moves to furlough workers. The firefighters' contract has been viewed by some as a first test of the council's will in bargaining with other unions this year, and labor officials expressed bitterness about yesterday's vote.

To curb the city's deficit, both Dixon and Wilson have said that they may have no choice but to defer all pay raises and furlough thousands of workers.

Union leaders have said the mayor must look for other sources of revenue -- such as increased taxes -- and that Wilson has privately agreed.

"Because of the climate, this means we will not be able to negotiate anything," said Ed Kornegay, president of Teamsters Local 1714, which represents correctional workers.

Kornegay said Wilson had voiced support for raises for city workers, including firefighters, during last fall's campaign. "Obviously, with what John has done, why would I negotiate something with the mayor," Kornegay said. "He {Wilson} has shown he lies and jumps all over the place . . . . He has jeopardized the whole collective bargaining process."

Tom Tippett, president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 36, sat impassively as the council voted against the pay-raise package. "We're certainly not shocked," he said. "The rank and file are going to be disappointed . . . and we're basically going to have to go back to the table."

The pay package would have provided a 3 percent raise for nearly 1,300 firefighters during the first of four years covered by the contract. Each percentage point raise would have cost the District $879,000, with the total cost of the package totaling $1.8 million, according to city financial analysts.

However, Tippett said the package included cuts, including personnel and dental coverage, that would have saved $1.5 million. He had argued that new costs from the pay package would have been $250,000. But city budget officials told council members that their analysis showed smaller savings.

Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council (AFL-CIO), called the D.C. Council's decision hypocritical, but he revealed no plans for action.

"I think what we saw this morning was a herd mentality on the part of council," he said, " . . . fighting over the carcass of public workers." Williams said the council took the vote to show support for Wilson, who in the current budget battle wanted "to show he could go the mayor one round better."

Wilson began the council meeting 45 minutes late because he lacked a quorum for the sensitive vote. Council members Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) and Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) were absent.

Several council members who have received strong support from labor groups said they were reluctant to quash the firefighters' raise, but believed they had no choice because of the deficit.