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Originally published in Business People-Vermont in 2004.

A Man for
Two Seasons

by Tom Gresham

Michael LeBoeuf's life swings between extremes

Michael LeBoeuf had dreamed of a career in architecture, but when it came time to choose a college, a recession economy persuaded him to follow his love of numbers and pursue a degree in accounting. The CPA opened his Essex Junction firm, Associates in Accounting, in 1989.

N o one at Associates in Accounting is a winter person, insists Michael LeBoeuf, the business's owner. No one skis. No one pines for long days in the snow. From January to mid-April each year, the employees of Associates in Accounting are indoors at their desks, leaning over piles of papers covered in numbers.

Public accounting lends its own peculiar rhythm to a year. There's tax season with its frantic, pressure-packed push toward a looming deadline, and then there's the rest of the year, which moves at a much more leisurely pace.

The Essex Junction firm counts about 600 individuals and businesses among its clients, providing tax services, business planning, estate trusts and general financial services. LeBoeuf is a Certified Public Accountant and an accredited business adviser who also holds an investment license. A number of clients are outside of Vermont.

The firm is staffed largely with longtime employees who have developed a simpatico relationship in the office over the years, and LeBoeuf has secured some reliable part-time workers for tax season. It makes the operation run smoothly and crisply, even in the apparent chaos of preparing hundreds of client returns.

The workload at Associates in Accounting ratchets up right after New Year's Day; by February, most employees are working seven days a week, and they continue at that pace until April 15. "My clients tell me they feel sorry for me when they hear how much we're working during tax season," LeBoeuf says, "but I tell them don't feel sorry for us. We'll make up for it later."

"We've been doing it for so many years that we're used to it," he continues. "We know it's coming; we know to get our minds geared up for it. We know that there's an end in sight and that it won't last forever. We know everything will be finished at 5 p.m. on April 15 and that we'll be in a restaurant somewhere celebrating by 6."

Tax reviewer Barbara Fischman, another long-timer, has been with the firm nearly 10 years. Her office is in the lower level of the converted residence on Pinecrest Drive.

The payoff for all the hard work, LeBoeuf says, is that between mid-April and the end of the year, Associates in Accounting holds a four-day workweek. He estimates he took about 12 weeks in vacation last year.

LeBoeuf's time away from accounting is not simple relaxation, though. He spends several weeks a year working in the small town of Campbellton (pop. 212) in the panhandle of Florida, an hour west of Tallahassee. There, LeBoeuf owns a chestnut orchard with his former brother-in-law, David English.

The two invested in the orchard 13 years ago. English is the active partner, tending to the orchard year-round; LeBoeuf works on the orchard during intermittent weeklong stretches scattered over the year.

The orchard boasts 2,700 trees spread across 27 acres. Eventually, LeBoeuf hopes it will span 40 acres and be one of the largest chestnut orchards in the country. He originally envisioned it as an investment for retirement, but now, he also views it as a sort of therapy.

The chestnut orchard provides an ideal contrast to his full-time job, says LeBoeuf, who heads there each April with his friend Marlene Bryant, an accountant in Williston, soon after the final tax return has been completed.

He remembers mowing the fields in the orchard one fall afternoon about eight years ago. The pin in his tractor broke, and he was frustrated, spitting out curses under his breath. Then, he realized the trees were not expecting him to finish the job. There was no pending deadline to have the fields mowed; no risk of incurring a financial penalty or upsetting a client.

"It was a great feeling," LeBoeuf says. "I realized I could relax. There was no pressure to get it done."

LeBoeuf drove into town, bought a new pin for 55 cents and called it a day. In the morning, he woke up and finished the mowing.

"It's such a great feeling to be out there," he says. "I get to work outside and do physical labor, which is, of course, completely different from what I do here. When I come back after I've been at the orchard, I feel fully charged. It sort of keeps me fresh for the work I do here."

LeBoeuf grew up in Winooski with plans to become an architect; however, when he graduated from high school in 1973, the economy in the United States was in recession and construction statistics were in decline, making him question whether architecture was the right path for him to take.

"I didn't want to have a lot of college debt and no job," he says. "The only thing I knew about accounting was, it was about dealing with numbers, which was my strong suit. My dad told me they always need accountants, they always need bookkeepers, no matter how good the economy is."

So, LeBoeuf decided to study accounting at Champlain Col-lege. He showed enough aptitude for the field that two accounting instructors at the college Champ Soncrant and Walter Luchini pulled him aside separately and encouraged him to pursue a bachelor's degree in accounting, telling him the further study would open up doors for him.

"They were right, too," LeBoeuf says. "If they hadn't done that, I don't know where I'd be today."

LeBoeuf graduated from the University of Vermont in 1977 and was working at a Chittenden County accounting firm soon after graduation. In the ensuing years, he worked at various firms, holding a partnership in a larger firm in the mid-1980s.

He opened Associates in Accounting alone in 1989, determined to run a small firm that had no designs on growing large. The business is now located in an unassuming former house on Pinecrest Drive, off Susie Wilson Road.

"There are a number of reasons not to grow too large," he says. "There's a lot of stress involved with a bigger operation, and you lose touch with the people you work with and with the clients. It just wasn't for me."

LeBoeuf's management approach appears to have registered with his employees. Four of his five full-timers have been with him 10 years or more. Two of them, Colette Perrault and Andy Corologos, have been with Associates in Accounting since LeBoeuf opened the business.

"The staff has been together for so many years that everyone knows their role and everyone knows everyone else's role," LeBoeuf says. "We can all pretty much do a little bit of everything in here."

While he no longer prepares individual returns, LeBoeuf does review each one after it has been completed. He likens his role to that of an orchestra conductor or the manager of a manufacturing plant.

Having longtime employees helps things run smoothly. "We really have become a close family here we've been together so long. I don't think anyone sees me as the boss. We work, but we have fun and enjoy each other. We cut up and joke. I mean, I look at Andy. I really consider him my brother."

Owning a business, says LeBoeuf, means taking work home every day. The business, he says, is like his right arm. It's always with him.

"It really has become a part of me," LeBoeuf says. "When you own a business, the business reflects who you are."

It takes a great deal of study to follow the ever-changing tax laws, he says, so to stay on top of things, he attends a number of conferences. He enjoys the challenge.

Colette Perrault laughs when Michael LeBoeuf quips that she's "director of marketing." Perrault, who's been with the firm from the beginning, handles many facets of the business, from reception to secretarial, plus bookkeeping for certain accounts and tax preparation in season, "whatever needs doing," she says.

He also enjoys the business in general, he adds, saying that the experience of helping people and businesses work out problems is rewarding. Some commercial clients will simply schedule an appointment to sit down and talk with him about their businesses in broad terms to see what kinds of ideas are tossed around while individual clients place a great deal of trust in LeBoeuf and his accountants.

He confesses that client interaction is his favorite part of the job. "Half the time I think a degree in psychology would have been a great way to prepare for this job. People are often willing to bare their soul when they talk to somebody about their finances. It's like going to confession to talk to a priest for them. People just open up because they really are looking for some help. It's nice when we can do that."

LeBoeuf, who lives in Jericho, retains his interest in architecture and has designed three of his houses over the years. When he retires from accounting, he might consider giving architecture a try full time, he says, or he might just head for the chestnut orchard.

In the meantime, he remains committed to Associates in Accounting.

Year-end tax tips

by Michael LeBoeuf

Business Deductions

Self-employed health insurance premiums. Self-employed individuals are allowed to claim 100% of the amount paid during the taxable year for insurance that constitutes medical care for themselves, their spouses and dependents as an above-the-line deduction without regard to the 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor.

Equipment purchases. If you purchase equipment for your business, you may make a Section 179 election, which allows you to expense otherwise depreciable business property. In general, you may elect to expense up to $102,000 of equipment costs (with a phase-out for purchases in excess of $410,000) if the asset was placed in service during 2004. Careful timing of equipment purchases can result in favorable depreciation deductions under "half-year" and "mid-quarter" conventions.

First-year bonus depreciation. For qualified property placed in service in 2004, you may take an additional depreciation allowance of 50% of the adjusted basis of the property (30% of the basis if elected). The adjusted basis of the qualified property is reduced by this additional allowance before computing any other depreciation. However, the first year Section 179 expensing amount described above is computed before this additional allowance is computed.

NOL carry-back period. If your business suffers net operating losses in 2004, you may apply those losses against taxable income going back two tax years. Thus, for example, the loss could be used to reduce taxable income and thus generate tax refunds for tax years as far back as 2002.

Business Credits

Small employer pension plan startup cost credit. Certain small-business employers that did not have a pension plan for the preceding three years may claim a nonrefundable income tax credit for expenses of establishing and administering a new retirement plan for employees.

Employer-provided child care credit. Employers may claim a credit of up to $150,000 for supporting employee child care or child care resource and referral services. The credit is allowed for a percentage of "qualified child care expenditures" including for property to be used as part of a qualified child care facility, for operating costs of a qualified child care facility, and for resource and referral expenditures.

Originally published in November 2004 Business People-Vermont

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