Fairfax County officials appear unwilling to loosen county rules for in-home day care operators that limit them to caring for just seven children despite a state rule that allows operators to take in up to a dozen children at a time.

The county's law is in conflict with the state law, but local zoning officials enforced the lower county limit, prompting care givers who were caring for too many children to seek relief from the rules.

Rather than lift the limit for all caregivers, though, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday endorsed altering the program so that caregivers could take in up to a dozen children but only after securing a special permit from the county. That permitting process would cost caregivers $435 to $1,100 and require them to appear before zoning officials to plead their case.

"Going before the zoning committee in not the most fun thing in the world," said Susan Gallier, a day care operator for more than a decade. "But hopefully they'll get the message that the county wants to loosen up a little on us."

The county board will determine the final price of the special permit by March, and Gallier said the cost would determine how many caregivers apply for it.

"I'm just happy that they've given me the opportunity for that," said Gallier, who intends to apply for a permit.

Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said she supports bringing the county laws in line with the state rules but thinks the special permit is needed to ensure safety and limit neighborhood traffic.

"Fairfax County has the ability to regulate underneath the upper limit to make sure we have the opportunity to have oversight," Bulova said.

Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield, disagreed with the board's decision to retain the limit of seven children. The special permit will cost caregivers a great deal of money, he said, and may limit their desire to stay in business.

"We don't want to make this so difficult as to force child care providers into an unlicensed status and into black market child care," Herrity said. "We've got a lot of providers out there that we know will now have to go through the special permit process."

County supervisors are expected to vote on the change by March.