A citizen group calling for a real estate tax limit in Loudoun County is using "smoke and mirrors" to misinform the public about government spending, County Board Chairman Betty W. Tatum (D-Guilford) said this week.

At a news conference before Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Tatum and Vice Chairman Charles A. Bos (D-Leesburg) said statistics used by the new political action group inaccurately portray Loudoun's government as spending far more per resident than any other Washington area jurisdiction.

Taxaction '91 announced last month that it plans to work for candidates in this fall's Board of Supervisors election who pledge to cut back the size of the county government. Specifically, the group said it supports limiting the increase in the average real estate tax bill for residential, commercial and industrial properties to 5 percent each year unless voters agree in a referendum to lift the ceiling.

The tax protesters are "not comparing apples to apples," Tatum said Tuesday. She and Bos said the Loudoun operating budget used by Taxaction '91 for comparison purposes includes significant construction spending and other items not typically found in other county operating budgets in the region.

"They're trying to take a really, really complex issue and simplify it with charts and graphs without the responsibility that the information is accurate," Tatum said.

"We're putting together some information to counter that," she said, adding that it is easy for critics to disseminate data that amounts to "smoke and mirrors that looks good on paper."

Bos added that "some legitimate issues are buried" in the dispute. "The cost of growth is a debatable issue," the vice chairman said.

Bos defended the county government's approach to providing services in recent years: "Have we responded to the needed services and the desired services in the community? The answer is yes."

However, both officials said the fiscal 1992 budget, which will be debated and approved during the next three months, will reflect a significant retrenchment in program spending and the philosophy of local government's role.

There may be a "bloodletting process" of making painful cuts in programs, services and personnel to devise a budget that maintains this year's real estate tax rate of 85 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, Bos said.

At that point, when the severity of the cuts is evident, consideration may be given to raising the rate to minimize the effects of the trims.

Tatum and Bos said they believe that speakers at last Thursday's crowded public forum on the budget who said they favor tax increases to maintain services may not represent a cross section of county residents.

County Administrator Philip A. Bolen has said the coming budget, which will take effect July 1, may be smaller than the $273 million spending plan approved for this budget year. Officials note that not all of that $273 million in the approved 1991 budget will be raised and spent.

Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors received a policy for layoffs of county employees. In the policy, Bolen wrote that "it appears that no alternative will eliminate the need to recommend" that an undetermined number of county workers be laid off about midyear.

The school system would handle any possible layoff of its employees independently.

"It's starting to get real personal," Bos said.