St. Croix County's income maintenance programs are in for a major change in 2012.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, programs such as BadgerCare Plus, FoodShare, medical assistance, family planning and others will be handled by a regional consortium rather than by individual counties. The change in delivery of such state-funded programs is required by Act 32, which was part of Gov. Scott Walker's biennial budget.

Wisconsin Works, senior care, energy assistance and child care programs will not be part of the regionalization effort at this time.

As a result of the move to centralize, said Ronda Brown Anderson, economic support supervisor, clients receiving services and financial help will contact the Great Rivers consortium based in Eau Claire. That organization will take care of the process of administering many programs currently handled by the St. Croix County Health and Human Services Department.

"This is a major adjustment for the clients we're serving," Anderson said. "Staff will no longer be handling a case from start to finish."

Anderson said the transition period from a county-based system to a regional system has been too short and there are bound to be issues as the consortium kicks off next month. Officials from the 10-county area of Barron, Burnett, Chippewa, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pierce, Polk, St. Croix and Washburn have been meeting regularly to hammer out the details for the new consortium.

"We're trying to roll this out in a way that is not detrimental to clients," she said. "This is an enormous thing to happen in a short period of time. We'll start from here and evolve over time."

Anderson said she and others are concerned that the push for centralization could mean less timely customer service and issues with accuracy, which could have a negative impact on those receiving services.

Health and Human Services Director Fred Johnson said he expects some challenges as the transition begins in a couple weeks.

"There are bound to be bugs, no matter what we do," he said.

A case in point, Anderson said notices to current clients will be mailed out between Dec. 26-30 letting them know that the transition is about to take place.

"Unfortunately, mail is probably the last thing people are thinking about that week," she said.

County Administrator Patrick Thompson said centralization is the "wave of the future" and officials should be prepared to see more of it down the road.

The hope is that future savings realized by the move to centralize will benefit the counties rather than just be swallowed up by the state budget, Thompson said.