NORMAL -- State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka defended the raises for members of her staff during a stop at an animal shelter in Normal Wednesday morning.

A Chicago-based nonprofit group, the Better Government Association, criticized Topinka for providing raises of at least 3 percent to 56 employees.

"This is a small raise and we're not talking about huge amounts of money," she said. "Plus, we are down on our headcount by 24 people and $1.5 million."

The raises for nonunion staffers were also based on an effort to create more parity with the unionized work force. Under existing contracts, those raises were set at 4.5 percent.

"I had all of these folks who for years have been working, working, working and I didn't want to have to force them to join a union to get a raise," she said.

Topinka said she has cut department expenses and also needs to keep a balance between management and labor.

"If I am the only one that is left, how do we negotiate contracts?" she said. "I stand behind it and my people are worth it. They work hard and all I ask them to do is to work hard, so I know they are buzzing."

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