Ulman and county budget administrator Ray Wacks gave few details this week, saying the uncertainty at the state level has created an added challenge in making the county's annual operating budget.
If the state's "doomsday budget" goes into effect, Howard could stand to lose about 1 percent of its budget, or as much as $9.6 million in state aid for schools, community colleges and the library system, Wacks said.
But many expect the cuts won't be adopted and that the legislature will hold a special session to renegotiate the state budget, as well as a bill that died in the final minutes of the session that would shift teacher pension costs from the state to the counties.
More than 60 percent of the county's operating budget is nondiscretionary, including schools funding and debt repayment. A 1 percent reduction would have a greater effect over government services for which the county does control spending, such as public safety, Wacks said.
"It's a 1 percent reduction on top of years of reduced state aid," Ulman said. Four years ago, he said, Howard saw about $30 million in aid. Last year, it was down to $4 million.
The county could also be forced to pay an additional $17 million in teacher pension costs.
"Either way, counties are taking it on the chin," Ulman said.
He would not provide any details on the budget Thursday, including potential tax increases or the return of county employee furlough days.
"We're still going through budget deliberations," he said, adding that details would not be announced until April 20.
Adding to the concern are time constraints. Prolonged indecision over the state budget pushes county officials closer to deadlines outlined by the county charter. The council is scheduled to adopt a budget by May 23, but under the charter, it has until June 1.
Though Ulman would not say where potential cuts are being considered, he said that "public safety and education are always our priority. If people aren't safe, then nothing else matters."
He added, "I'm very confident we will be able to continue our quality of life in Howard County."
Several members of the council said they were anxious about the coming budget deliberations, saying the uncertainty in Annapolis has added a burden.
Councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, said that without knowing what the cuts will be at the state level, county officials won't know what areas they will want to protect.
She said, however, that public safety and education will remain priorities.
Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a Columbia Democrat, agreed. "We certainly are going to see cuts in what we expect from the state," she said.
She said education is a top priority, as well as services for those in danger of losing their homes or jobs.