Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter called on fellow Democrats yesterday to help him resolve the county's fiscal problems without increasing property taxes.

Potter told about 200 people attending an annual Democratic Party luncheon in Bethesda that if new revenue is not found and spending is not cut further, the county's budget shortfall next year could exceed the $175 million now projected.

A larger gap is likely if "the state aid is diminished further," he warned.

"That is something we have got to watch. And {the shortfall} could be as high as $200 million," he said, adding that it is already the state's largest.

To close that gap, Potter said he will propose spending cuts, keep positions vacant, ask county employees to forgo cost-of-living raises and seek the power to impose new taxes on development and automobile use. He also will seek to increase "taxes based on the ability to pay rather than property taxes, which are sometimes based on the ability to pay and sometimes not."

Potter added that he wants to abide by the mandate of last November's election, in which voters partially restricted property tax increases.

Property taxes would have to rise about 31 percent across-the-board to make up $175 million. However, the county cannot increase property taxes by more than the rate of inflation unless seven of the nine County Council members agree to do so.

Potter's refusal to discuss exceeding that limit has put him at odds with the county's state legislative delegation. Members of the delegation said yesterday they don't want to be put in the uncomfortable position of supporting an increase in income taxes if county lawmakers won't increase property taxes.

"I think the feeling is we both have to bite the same bullet if we are going to bite it at all," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Committee on Budget and Taxation.

County Council member Bruce T. Adams (D-At Large) said he would be willing to take some of the burden off state legislators, "but let us figure out where those taxes are going to come from."

Adams said, for instance, that the county should raise an additional $18 million by increasing its tax on energy consumption to promote conservation.

Meanwhile, Del. Michael R. Gordon, who chairs the delegation, told fellow Democrats that "we may disagree on the issues, and we should."

"But we have an outside threat -- the Republican Party," he said, referring to the GOP's gains statewide. "As elected Democrats, let's not be attacking other elected Democrats."

Council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large) sounded a similar warning. He said Democrats will be held responsible for how the budget crisis is resolved because they control the governor's mansion, the state Senate and House of Delegates, the county executive's seat and the County Council.

"Right or wrong, we as Democrats will be blamed for what occurs," he said.

"There is no single way we can tax our way out of the problem. We can't get there by simply reducing our excellent work force or cutting salaries or limiting vital programs. It will take a combination of all of these and other efforts to be successful," he said.

Potter agreed. In a blunt plea for cooperation, he asked legislators to give him a "broader selection of tax sources."

He asked for "understanding" from county employee groups, who he said "will have to work harder to replace those who have left employment, and will also have to do without this year's scheduled cost-of-living pay raises in the labor contracts."

Potter also asked taxpayers for patience because "they'll be asked to pay a little more while getting less."