It was more than three decades ago that Bud Albert Whitaker and Maurice Barnhill faced off on this small town's main street -- Whitaker as a young black protesting Jim Crow laws and Barnhill as a white volunteer fireman wielding a hose.

Both men agree on what happened in that 1964 confrontation: Barnhill sprayed Whitaker with pressurized water that knocked him to the ground, and Whitaker wound up in jail.

Now, a generation later, Whitaker, 51, and Barnhill, 69, are again lined up on opposite sides and once more Whitaker faces possible imprisonment.

What is different this time is that both men are now members of the Enfield Town Commission and their fight has erupted into a bitter dispute so intense that it has brought town business to a standstill.

In effect, Whitaker and two other black officials are staging a political boycott by refusing to attend commission meetings in a deliberate effort to deprive the majority-white body of the quorum it needs to enact the town's annual budget.

The dispute has opened old racial wounds in a small rural town that has struggled for decades to heal from the days when blacks and whites went to separate schools and drank from separate water fountains.

Now, blacks have strengthened their political power -- the mayor is black and so are two members of the council. But beneath the veneer of equality a disparity of lifestyle remains.

Most of Enfield's white residents live behind columned houses and manicured lawns on the town's east side while blacks, who are two-thirds of the town's 3,100 residents, are largely confined to tiny frame houses, many still without bathrooms, on the west side.

And although whites and blacks now sit side by side inside the town's modern commission chambers, those seats have been empty for more than two months as the black members' boycott intensifies.

The current dispute was triggered by a budget fight over a long-neglected commission promise to provide sewer service to a poor black enclave. Eight years ago, the town ran a sewer line right past these houses in order to reach a new industrial park. When the town did that, it promised to come back within the next two years and hook up the bypassed black residents, too.

But that never happened.

Because the commission has reneged on that commitment, Whitaker and the two other black officials have successfully blocked commission business from taking place by refusing to attend meetings on the town's annual budget.

The three whites on the five-member commission, led by Mayor pro-tem Barnhill, went to court last month and secured an order demanding that the town's two black commissioners and the black mayor, E. Kai Hardaway III, show up for a meeting so the budget could be adopted.

Although the mayor can vote only to break ties, his presence at the meetings, or that of either one of the black commissioners, would constitute a quorum that would then allow the three white commissioners to adopt a budget.

Circuit Court Judge J. Richard Parker had set a hearing for Thursday at which the black officials were to show why they had refused his order. Their lawyer, Paul Green of Raleigh, said his clients could have been sent to jail for contempt, but late today, the judge backed off, giving the officials until Sept. 2 to resolve their differences legislatively.

In any event, going to jail would not be a new experience for Whitaker. Back in the 1960s, he was arrested and dragged off to jail as often as 10 times in one day, for picketing stores here that either refused to serve blacks or made them go to the back door.

From Whitaker's perspective, little has changed in this northeastern North Carolina town over the last 33 years.

"A few new stores have opened, and a few old ones have closed," he said today as he, fellow commissioner James E. Sledge and Mayor Hardaway plotted their latest strategy in the budget impasse.

Barnhill, who defends his decision to go after Whitaker and other blacks with a fire hose -- "I'd have done the same thing if it had been my brother breaking the law" -- said he and other whites have been "more willing to make adjustments for the benefit of the town than they have."

Responds Walker, "They talk the talk but they don't walk the walk. Actions speak louder than words."

Hardaway, 41, smiles when he explains that in refusing to call or attend a commission meeting he is merely following the precedent of the state's senior senator, Republican Jesse Helms.

In a legal response to the order for them to attend a meeting, the black officials cited Helms's refusal, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to schedule a hearing on the nomination of former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld to be ambassador to Mexico.

"I learned from Helms and LBJ {former president Lyndon B. Johnson} that politics is the art of compromise," said Hardaway. He was born in the District, where his father, Ernest Hardaway, a dentist, served as a member of Mayor Marion Barry's cabinet in the 1970s.

During the impasse, the town is getting by on an interim budget imposed on it by a state agency, the local government commission.

Barnhill, who manages a local tractor dealership, said his black colleagues are trying to portray the dispute as a racial one, but to him "it's a matter of business, and businesses have to follow guidelines."

Another white commissioner, Larry Sorie, said the black officials failed to attend work sessions on the budget, and instead waited until it was too late to raise their concerns about funding priorities.

Besides, said Sorie, 50, who sells cars and trucks across the street from Barnhill's tractor store, the homes to which the blacks want to extend the sewer line are not within the town limits.

That may be true, counters Whitaker, but only because the commission has refused to annex the area, despite repeated requests by residents.

In an open letter to the community released in early June, the black officials enclosed a copy of the minutes of a June 7, 1989, meeting in which the commission, by a voice vote, adopted Hardaway's motion to appropriate $120,000 to extend the sewer line to the homes that were bypassed by the commercial sewer extension.

To rectify that, the black officials wanted to add $50,000 to the town's proposed $4 million operating budget. Their letter contended that the town could tap into some of the more than $1 million in state and federal grants it has received in recent months.

But Barnhill said it's not that simple. Most of the grant money is designated for specific purposes, none of which includes providing sewers to Plant Street. The open letter also complained about the failure of the commission's white majority to approve repeated requests for annexations -- actions that would increase the number of black residents.

The failure of the town to live up to its promise is exacerbated, according to Hardaway, because a recently completed addition to its sewage treatment plant leaves it with a large excess capacity.

Today, the poor black enclave still has no indoor plumbing, a condition that not only requires its residents to walk to primitive outdoor stalls, but results in children such as Rakeem Jones, 3, and his cousin, Sharnetta Kiah, 6, to play on ground often made soggy from raw sewage that seeps out from those structures.

"Those people need sewer, no doubt," concedes commissioner Sorie, "but there are people inside town who do not have sewers also."

Mayor Hardaway sees a different reason for the delay. "It's not what we're asking," he said. "But who's doing the asking." CAPTION: Commissioner Bud Whitaker, left, and Mayor E. Kai Hardaway III look over the town's new sewage treatment plant. Whitaker, Hardaway and another black commissioner are boycotting meetings regarding the budget. CAPTION: Maurice Barnhill, mayor pro-tem, opposes the boycott by black officials. As a volunteer fireman in 1964, Barnhill sprayed protester Whitaker with a pressurized water hose, knocking him to the ground. CAPTION: Cousins Rakeem Jones, 3, and Sharnetta Kiah, 6, play near an outhouse on Plant Street in Enfield, N.C. The town failed to run sewer lines to their homes.