Prince William County continues to offer a high quality of life and services to its residents, although satisfaction does not meet last year's all-time highs, according to an annual citizen survey released yesterday.

The telephone poll, conducted by the University of Virginia for the seventh straight year, found that citizens' feelings about the county are trending upwards, and their highest priorities remain safety, education, fire and rescue and low taxes. But the survey also revealed the perennial ambivalence citizens feel toward growth--the facet of Prince William government about which they express the greatest discontent.

The 1,305 residents polled in May and June rated their quality of life its highest ever, at 7.3 on a scale of one to 10. But general satisfaction with county services was reported at 89 percent this year, down from last year's 93 percent.

County staff and supervisors seemed pleased overall with the results, although they quibbled over individual statistics that had fallen.

"I'm astonished how high those numbers are," said County Executive Bern Ewert during a work session. "Nevertheless, when I see those numbers go down . . . I ask my staff, 'Why?' "

Residents remain content with police, firefighting and emergency rescue services, and they report feeling safer than ever in their own neighborhoods. Satisfaction with the county's range of social services also has been moving upward over the last seven years, especially with programs for the needy and elderly, which began with low evaluations in 1993.

Citizens expressed 94 percent satisfaction with the landfill--higher than in recent years--despite the passage last year of an unpopular trash fee.

The study showed that 76 percent of residents think the county is doing a good job of attracting new jobs and businesses, up from 64 percent in 1993. But as in past years, they remain conflicted over the pace and type of growth.

Just over half--55 percent--are pleased with the county's planning and land-use decisions. But 80 percent of residents said the county should grow more slowly, and 50 percent said the county should control and regulate development more.