Schaumburg trustee candidates debate how friendly village is to businesses

As the second-largest hub of economic activity in Illinois, Schaumburg sometimes is referred to as the downtown of the Northwest suburbs, but the six candidates vying for three village trustee seats hold differing views of its business-friendliness.

Newcomers Dhitu Bhagwakar, Rocco Terranova and Scott Felgenhauer say they've heard specific criticisms of the red tape and bureaucracy involved in opening a new business in the village, while incumbents George Dunham and Mark Madej along with current zoning board member Brian Bieschke defended Schaumburg's track record and argued that the path to improvement is narrower.

Bhagwakar, who is running as a member of a team with Terranova and mayoral candidate Nafees Rahman, has been in business for 35 years but operating outside the village he calls home. Having spoken to people with businesses in Schaumburg, however, he complained that the village's permits, licenses and fees are 22 percent higher than those in the surrounding 10-mile radius.

"Schaumburg needs to make it easy for the new businesses," he said.

Bhagwakar also criticized Schaumburg's 14 different categories of business taxes as too many. These include a 5 percent amusement tax, a $1 per vehicle auto lease tax and an 8 percent hotel and motel tax.

Terranova, former Schaumburg Township Democratic committeeman, said that although he's never owned a business himself, his research through the Cook County treasurer's office and other sources told him there's a 29 percent vacancy in the village's office space, or about 12 million square feet. He added that he too has heard that opening a business in Schaumburg is overly cumbersome.

"We're going to say it straight - if you know somebody, it seems to go smooth; if you don't, it just is a long process," Terranova said.

Felgenhauer is running independently and is an active member of the Schaumburg Business Association. But through that involvement, he said he's heard criticism of the village's support of new and existing businesses.

"I'm not saying we need to have lower taxes to have companies come in like Elk Grove Village is offering, but at the same time they need to be out pushing more, trying to bring companies in here, because quite frankly that is what's going to lower our property taxes," Felgenhauer said.

Madej, who's running as part of a team with Dunham, Bieschke and mayoral candidate Tom Dailly, said his own information tells him that Schaumburg has only a 7.7 vacancy rate among its 10 million square feet of retail space and that about 20 non-chain businesses opened in the village last year.

He countered Bhagwakar's criticism of the number of business tax categories, adding that such taxes relieve the burden on residents for needed services.

"Taxes like those aren't deterrents to business," he said. "They're all coming in here. They're calling the village asking, 'Where can we find 15,000 square feet here, can we build there, can we do this here?'"

Dunham added that businesses taxes are what's helped the village lower its property tax levy by 13 percent since it was started due to the recession in 2009. He also addressed the issue of the number of tax categories.

"One might take the opposite view: that that's the better way to do full disclosure and say this is what your taxes and fees are going for," he said.

Bieschke said the zoning board does hear criticisms that the village's signage and parking rules are too strict, and he believes some adjustments have been made as a result. He also believes some improvements can be made to the efficiency of the permitting process, but he said that the village's new economic development department will be a further avenue for change.

"I think there's a few things we can do to be more business-friendly, but overall I think it's a great community for business, and as (Madej) said, our vacancy rate in retail right now is very low," Bieschke said.

Election Day is Tuesday, April 2.

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