Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk released the 2008 County Budget at a meeting Monday afternoon at the City County Building.

The budget, Falk's 11th as county executive, prioritizes public safety, human services and conservation of the environment.

According to Falk, the budget begins to implement suggestions made in a criminal justice audit.

"Not only will [implementing these suggestions] keep our communities safer, but it frees up substantial dollars so we can put those into more public safety [programs] and human services," Falk said.

For instance, in the 2008 budget, Dane County plans to reduce the number of inmates sent to other counties and save enough money to fortify human service programs.

Falk emphasized public safety is a main concern of the new budget. In order to better patrol the Beltline and other major highways of the area, the 2008 budget adds a second Traffic Safety Team.

“There have just been too many tragedies,” Falk said. “We don’t want to be a leader in the state — as we are — of traffic fatalities.”

The budget also puts aside $100,000 for a program that provides community jobs to at-risk youth as an alternative to joining gangs.

Additionally, Dane County will participate in 24-hour electronic monitoring of inmates released from jail. A work program for jobless inmates to improve their work ethic will also be instigated.

Many of the programs outlined in the 2008 budget also focus on human services. This includes money restoration toward employment services for those with mental illnesses and physical disabilities, as well as for children who have been sexually abused and parents of teens struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, according to a release.

In addition, Falk has proposed a $500,000 expansion of the Early Childhood Initiative, a program designed to help young families find jobs and get off to a healthy start.

The conservation portion of the budget focuses on preservation and acquisition of wetlands and energy conservation. Falk has increased the Land and Water Legacy Fund to $2.5 million for 2008.

"Every dollar spent on wetland protection means less flooding in places where the water shouldn't be," Falk said. "Restoring these wetlands will improve the storage of floodwaters before they reach our urban areas."

The Dane County Budget will now go to County Board committees for review. After being reviewed by the full County Board in early to mid-November, the budget will then return to Falk for approval, veto or partial veto.

Falk said it is important to note a state budget is yet to be written. As a result, many of the budget lines are educated guesses based on assumptions, especially in the Human Services budget.

County Board Chairman Scott McDonell said this means there may be sudden changes made to the budget, based on what the state budget cuts.

"The decisions that could be made with the state budget will dramatically affect this budget," McDonell said. "I think this [budget] is a very good start, but anything could happen in the Assembly or Senate, and that’s what’s worrying me the most right now."