County and state elected officials see nothing but dark fiscal skies for the next year, but there is a silver lining, too, courtesy of the growing federal presence at Fort Meade, where thousands of new jobs and billions of new dollars are heading.
No, it's not the much-ballyhooed Base Realignment and Closing, or BRAC, bonanza, though those jobs are welcome.
The likely establishment of a beefed-up cyber-security agency and the addition of up to 15,000 new jobs beyond what BRAC is bringing will have a major impact, not to mention 14,000 jobs from increased hiring by the National Security Agency. Together, they'll outstrip BRAC's 21,000 jobs over the next 15 years, according to Kent Menser, Howard's BRAC coordinator and a former commander of Fort Meade.
"This command will raise the level of what's going on at Fort Meade," Menser said.
Of course, the six state delegates and two senators he described this to at County Executive Ken Ulman's legislative breakfast Dec. 16 are still worried about an ever-growing state revenue shortfall and next year's elections.
But for a few minutes, they got to imagine what's coming, courtesy of Menser, who told them that the giant fort just three miles from the Howard County line now employs 40,000 people and pumps $10 billion annually into the local economy, including $2.5 billion into Howard County. It employs more county residents, 8,000, than any other single entity. Fort Meade is far larger than the Pentagon, he said, and a cyber command announcement could come as soon as the first quarter of 2010.
Electronic warfare involving attacks on a nation's computer-run functions is already beginning, he said.
"It's equal to what sea power was in the 19th century and what air power was in the 20th century. These things are already taking place," he said about cyber attacks on national financial systems.
Right now, he said, 36,000 vehicles drive onto the fort's grounds daily. When the expansion is complete, that could jump to 61,000 a day - more than existing roads can absorb. Buses, vans and people working from home will help ease the crunch, he said.
Don't look for county Citizens Services director Susan Rosenbaum behind a snow shovel this winter - at least not after Feb. 1.
After 34 years that began as a low-level employee in 1975 and ended after six years as the boss, Rosenbaum and her husband, Gary, plan to start a new life in retirement, and winters will be weathered on Florida's west coast, she said.
"I've had a great career here," she said recently. "I love Howard County. It's where my heart is," and where their primary home will remain, not to mention their daughter, Marnie, a teacher and coach at River Hill High.
Rosenbaum - a fast-talking, high-energy, always-smiling, can-do official - did just a tad of reminiscing at Ulman's legislative breakfast, where he announced her departure and she received praise for her work.
"The citizens of Howard County owe you a debt of gratitude," Ulman said.
"It's the people I'm going to miss," she replied, adding that she won't miss her county BlackBerry, however.
"How old are you?" she asked the embarrassed Ulman, who is 35, noting that her career spanned all but one of those years.
"She worked incredibly hard for 34 years," Ulman said.
"I love Susan," said Del. Guy Guzzone, who said he's known her since his own start as a County Council special assistant for then-Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass in the early 1990s. "She is both a kind heart and a strong leader," he said.
Del. Gail H. Bates remembered the Christmas in April home repair program Rosenbaum helped run during Bates' time working for then-County Executive Charles I. Ecker, also in the 1990s.
Rosenbaum started a job as a program coordinator for the tiny Department of Citizen Services in a much-smaller county government in a much less populated county.
There were no county senior centers then, she recalled, and as department director for the past six years, Rosenbaum has been involved in planning for eventualities she wouldn't have dreamed of back then, from a county response to terrorist attacks to ever-present problems like homelessness and grants to nonprofits.
"We're going to do a snowbird thing," she said, talking about herself and her husband, who also served the county as a volunteer Planning Board member after selling his party supply store. He resigned from the board in September because of health problems.
Creating a human services master plan detailing how to help vulnerable people, and inculcating a culture of caring in her department are her proudest achievements, she said.
"I just feel fortunate I was able to work, live and volunteer in the same county and raise our daughter, Marnie," she said.