WHILE EVERY jurisdiction in Greater Washington is wrestling with the pressures of tight money, Prince George's County has become something of a regional leader in the efforts to control budgets in a big way. Having no new local government to break in this year has helped give the county an early start on the painful process, but credit goes, too, to the serious work of County Executive Parris Glendening and key union leaders in the county, who have been haggling over -- but working toward -- some sensible concessions to austerity.

Of particularly urgent public interest has been the negotiations between the county and its police officers, firefighters and correctional employees. Like everyone else on the county payroll, they have been asked to help in erasing what is at this point a $72.5 million revenue shortfall for this fiscal year and more still in fiscal '92. The choices here -- as in local governments elsewhere -- are between more taxes or some combination of concessions from employees, with or without layoffs.

Losing any public-safety employees is an unattractive proposition to all involved -- the government, the union rank and file and the public. But in Prince George's, as in other parts of this area, the best answer lies in arrangements to defer or suspend cost-of-living or other pay increases. If all employee groups cooperate, none needs suffer unduly. In the case of the police, fire and correctional employees, sufficient savings should be achievable with no layoffs.

The smart money is on this approach, because otherwise the necessity for layoffs becomes all too real. Both the county and the unions have a good opportunity now to continue setting reasonable patterns for unreasonably tough economic times.