ATTLEBORO — City councilor and mayoral candidate Heather Porreca, who also manages the privately run Attleboro Farmers Market Inc., has been targeted by some supporters of Mayor Paul Heroux who question the financial operations of the not-for-profit market.
Porreca, a three-term city councilor and currently vice president of the panel, also serves on AFM Inc.’s board of directors.
The market is open about 19 weeks a year and pays a permit fee of $50 to the city to operate on O’Connell Field at Capron Park.
One of Porreca’s critics is Martha Conti, whose husband, councilor Richard Conti, was instrumental in re-energizing the market about 10 years ago. She claims Porreca has been falsely credited with reviving it.
Both Contis served on the board for a time, but stepped down around 2011.
Martha Conti suggested in a Facebook post that something’s amiss with the market. She asked whether Porreca is paid and why she wrote a personal check to cover the annual city fee charged to AFM for its use of O’Connell Field. She characterized the latter as “concerning.”
She’s asked where AFM money goes and why some vendors at the market pay no fee.
“How do the paying vendors and the public feel about this discriminating practice?” she asked.
“Paul Heroux should be reelected mayor,” Martha Conti said at the end of a series of questions about AFM Inc.
And she praised Heroux for “maintaining transparency” in his administration.
Another critic raised questions about the why AFM does not file charitable tax forms.
In an emailed letter, the AFM board responded to questions from The Sun Chronicle.
The letter was signed by AFM President David LaFerriere, treasurer Geoffrey McGeHee, secretary Vicki May, vendor coordinator Edward J. Porreca Jr., and Heather Porreca.
Edward Porreca is Heather Porreca’s husband.
The board characterized the Conti’s criticism as “misinformation.”
“We are aware that a former volunteer with our organization is putting out quite a bit of misinformation regarding the Attleboro Farmers Market,” the email said. “Normally we ignore this kind of stuff and let our hard work and overwhelming success speak for itself.”
In sum, board members said AFM is a private enterprise run on a shoestring with unpaid volunteers, however the company could pay employees if it chose to do so.
Board members said if there’s surplus cash at the end of the year, it’s donated to local organizations.
Sometimes board members, including Porreca, chip in to make things work financially, they said.
“We rarely make it through the season fully funded and board members cover small costs to make it to the end, and are reimbursed at the beginning of the next,” the emailed statement said. “We spend every penny that comes in on the operations and things needed to run this very successful market.”
The email provided budget percentages, but did not give specific figures.
Spending broke down this way:
- 40 percent — online advertising
- 25 percent — operations (insurance, port-a-potties, canopies, tables, chairs, paint)
- 20 percent — offline marketing/promotions (signs, swag, print ads)
- 15 percent — music.
“Each week, we reevaluate our earnings and budget and adjust it as we go through the year,” board members said. “Our fee structure is public with considerations including grandfathered vendors, event pricing and hardship situations.”
They listed 36 organizations to which money has been donated over the years including Hebron Food Pantry, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Special Olympics.
Porreca acknowledged writing a personal check to pay the annual $50 fee required to use park property for the market, but said it’s because AFM begins the year without cash.
She said AFM Inc. has its own bank account and company and personal funds are not “co-mingled,” as suggested by a different critic.
“Yes, Eddie and I have written a personal check for the application fee…,” Porreca said. “The board spends all money at the end of the year and sometimes we have to cover costs and are reimbursed when vendors pay their fees in the summer.”
The board members described AFM Inc. as a “not-for-profit” company, which they said is not the same as a “nonprofit.”
As a not-for-profit, AFM would have to bring in $25,000 or more before it would be required to file a federal IRS tax return or a state Revenue Department tax return, Porreca said.
“We do not have to file an I 990 form, or any form, for two reasons; we are not a charitable organization with tax exempt status and we don’t generate more than $25,000,” Porreca said. “Should we ever reach that status of course we would file.”
Board members said some vendors do not have to pay a fee to take part in the market.
Those that don’t include nonprofit organizations, “old dude” farmers and businesses struggling to make it.
“Our ‘Old Dude’ farmers don’t pay a fee, it would be unfair to them to come in, take over the market they have been running for decades and to add insult to injury charge them to be there,” board members said. “There are some businesses that are struggling, so we are incredibly flexible with payment. The goal of AFM is to support small businesses not profit from them.”