On Jan. 20's Close to Home page, local publisher Lanny Davis warned that Montgomery County may soon have to learn how to live with "less than the best" in services {"The Best Things in Life Aren't Free"}. But the budget crisis in Montgomery County is far more serious than he indicated, and without a new source of revenue, services will drop far below the bare minimum expected by most residents.

Last fall, leaders of the county's tax revolt successfully promoted Question F, which limits the Montgomery County Council's ability to rely on property taxes as a funding source. Although a faltering economy is the principal cause of our $175 million shortfall, Question F is making a significant contribution to the county's fiscal crisis. It requires the council to cut the property tax rate 11 1/2 cents, which will add $28.6 million to the fiscal 1992 deficit. But the county government, unlike Congress, must produce a balanced budget. So Question F will mean drastic service cuts for our residents.

Ironically, the objective of the tax revolt will be fulfilled this year even without Question F. The $146.4 million deficit that results from slower economic growth will force Montgomery County to slim down beyond the wildest dreams of tax revolt leaders. At least 1,000 jobs may be eliminated. And despite horrible congestion on thoroughfares, funds for new roads and mass-transit projects will come to a near halt. Long-delayed repairs to 40-year-old school buildings may be put off even longer.

Shouldn't there be a difference between placing county government on a diet and starving it?

Do we want to close libraries? Fire our suicide counselors?

How about abolishing our popular magnet-school program?

County police have not been able to cover all of their assigned beats, even at current funding levels. Do we want even less police protection? Do we want to give up on new parks for the crowded down-county or delete nutritional program for our senior citizens?

Falling revenues also could affect our ability to protect the county's most vulnerable residents. We could see the end of early childhood education and nutrition programs that are so vital to children from low-income families. And we may not be able to afford obstetric care for indigent women or help the homeless. It is clear that the long-term savings inherent in providing these services far outweigh the short-term costs.

No one likes taxes, but we believe citizens would prefer a combination of responsible spending cuts and new revenue sources to a slash-and-burn budget that dramatically reduces services and the county's quality of life.

The 1992 shortfall amounts to $231 per county resident -- a difficult, but not impossible, figure to close. We believe the burden must be spread equitably, with businesses, county residents and state government each paying a fair share.

Any legitimate funding proposal deserves serious consideration, and that includes an override of Question F. Its drafters wisely added an escape hatch, which allows the council to override F's provisions with a seven-member majority vote. This year's budget crisis is so serious that the council ought to consider doing just that. -- Derick P. Beriage and Michael L. Subin are Democratic members of the Montgomery County Council.