The three candidates for Bensenville village president are painting different pictures of the state of the economy in town.
Incumbent Frank Soto says the local economy is on the upswing, with 154 new businesses coming to Bensenville last year and the village collecting $8.4 million in sales taxes -- the most in its history.
But his two challengers in the April 9 election, Oronzo Peconio and Rich Johnson, are questioning whether there really has been such robust progress on the economic development front.
Peconio, a village trustee who ran on Soto's slate in 2009, says the new business statistic is "just smoke and mirrors" because he believes it includes businesses that simply moved within the village from one location to another. And, Peconio says, it also includes his very own campaign headquarters for his Bensenville First slate.
The slate's website, under a posting called "More Fuzzy Math?" includes a copy of a village response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Bensenville First for a list of all new business licenses issued in 2011 and 2012 for businesses that have moved into the village. The village FOIA officer said no such list exists.
Soto said not every business requires a license, such as attorneys, accountants, insurance agencies and doctors. Licenses are required for businesses selling goods because of sales tax revenues, he said.
Some of the new businesses include two car dealerships, a bank and several companies in the industrial park, which now has the lowest vacancy rate among municipalities in the immediate O'Hare region, Soto said.
A total of 27 businesses left town in 2012, some saying in exit interviews they wanted to be closer to their homes or in other states where the cost of labor would be less, Soto said.
He said the village has been acquiring property in the downtown area and plans to talk to developers later this year in an effort to get mixed- use developments built. Studies have shown the downtown area near the Metra station should have greater residential density in order for restaurants and shops to follow, he said.
Johnson, a 12-year member of the Bensenville Park District board, said he would restructure the village's planning and economic development department to focus more on actively recruiting businesses, instead of just focusing on "what's easy, like tobacco and liquor stores."
"You have to actively recruit businesses. Just waiting for them to come to us is not a smart thing," Johnson said. "I think we're studied out and it's time we do some progress."
He also says the village should review its inspection and permit services to make sure codes are enforced fairly. Now, he says inconsistency in the process is "what turns businesses off."
Peconio said he would make it easier for businesses to come to town by sitting at the table with developers, telling them the village's vision and then saying, "tell us what you can do." He says he's already met with developers interested in the village's downtown.
"They're afraid to come right now because of all the red tape," Peconio said. "We're going open up our arms to businesses who want to come to Bensenville."
Peconio pointed to a $6.5 million proposed expansion of the Victory Auto Wreckers facility that fell through after more than two years of planning when he says Soto and village officials asked the owner to do an additional $700,000 in work, such as adding underground electricity, LED lighting and fire hydrants.
Soto said the project was approved and the village agreed to waive the lighting requirements, but the owner eventually decided to put the project on hold because of declining sales and thefts in the yard.
"His decision was really more of a financial one," Soto said. "If this is the only item (Peconio) has of one business not expanding out of 154 that are expanding, I think that's a pretty good track record."
Soto said the village has emphasized more one-on-one customer interaction, replaced an "archaic, subjective" building code system with a 2006 international code system, revamped the permitting process and lowered fees, and expedited services.
Meanwhile, Soto has sent out a campaign mailer claiming Peconio has operated his Coffee Bean Express distribution business in Bensenville without a business license, and his corporation has been dissolved with the secretary of state's office for seven years.
"If he can't comply with requirements of having a business license or maintaining his corporation, then is this the person that should be chief executive officer of the village?" Soto said.
Peconio said his business consists of a "small computer and small table" in his house where he does billing, but trucks operate out of a facility in Lombard, and the business has a separate post office box.
"It's a witch hunt between (Soto) and his attorney," Peconio said.
• To see all our coverage of the Bensenville village president race, including candidate bios, go to http://www.dailyherald.com/news/politics/election/race/Bensenville-Village-President/