Farming, Music, National Guard, and Taxes
…It’s All Part of Arlon Warner’s Life in Vermont
It wasn’t the career path Arlon Warner expected to take when he finished his senior year at Johnson State College in 1972 with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Economics and Accounting. But a pragmatic decision to help his family with their new dance hall and a knack for understanding small business accounting and tax rules led Warner to a job he has loved for 38 years—tax preparation.
“I was born in 1950 and raised in the extremely rural town of Lowell, Vermont (population about 600),” Warner related. “It was on my family’s 1,000 acre dairy farm where my three older brothers, older sister, one younger brother and I all learned what discipline, work ethics, morals, values and teamwork were all about.”
“No days off because the cows did not know Sundays or holidays from other days!” he added with a smile. Though the work was hard, Warner recalled with fondness that he learned how to plant and raise vegetables. “My mother’s garden was large, so my siblings and I had to hoe the rows of vegetables. Of course, we also learned to can those vegetables for use during the long cold Vermont winters.”
With his farming background, Warner never dreamed he would be preparing tax returns in the years to come. Being able to attend college offered many new opportunities for Warner and his siblings, opportunities that would not have been available without higher education. Warner said he is thankful that his mother worked as a cook at Johnson State College in Vermont as that job made it possible for her children to attend any state college in Vermont tuition free.
Warner also shared that his large close-knit family was very musical. The family’s love of music led Warner’s father and two of his brothers to build a large dance and banquet hall in their hometown. “The family band played upbeat country music every Saturday night for many years,” he said.
It was actually the dance hall – in a roundabout way – which started Warner on the path of preparing taxes. Warner was working as a partner full time for the family partnership when the family decided to add a 10-lane Brunswick bowling alley in the dance hall basement. Since the business was a partnership, rather than a sole proprietorship, the bookkeeping was a bit more complicated as the books had to be done manually since it was a pre-computer era.
“We took our first income tax information to a local practitioner in the spring of 1974,” Warner recalled. “However, the main client base of this tax preparer consisted of farmers. After I looked over the completed 1065 partnership return, I felt a desire for a better understanding of the tax laws.” That is when Warner made a decision based on good old common sense. “I decided to dig into the partnership rules myself,” he said. Before long, he was running his own small tax business and doing 1040 returns (along with a few business returns) for clients in his hometown. “My tax preparation business seed was then planted.”
That seed, planted so many years ago, has continued to grow as Warner has used his tax knowledge to help his family and many others. One group he feels strongly about helping is the members of Vermont’s National Guard. Warner joined the Army National Guard after college and was a member for over 35 years, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
“I guess the main thing that changed my outlook on life was my initial military training,” he reminisced. “I was on my very first airplane when I departed for my military training and it was actually the first time that I was outside my local hometown area. I learned that there was a whole different world beyond my 30-mile hometown radius.”
Though his tax preparation business is a part-time venture operated out of his small home office, Warner has always made it a priority to help his fellow National Guardsmen with their taxes. He prepares their returns for a greatly reduced price. For his comrades who are actively deployed, Warner always prepares their returns at no charge. “They are putting their lives on the line for our country!” he emphasized.
Warner became a partner with Drake Software in 2007 after looking at the 2006 Drake demo disk. The tax software he had been using was very expensive (even charging extra fees for E-filing) and their support was “poor.” He added, “One Saturday during tax season, I was placed on hold for about 45 minutes… living in this small rural community where the economy always seemed to be on the weaker side, I had to look for an alternative tax software which would be less expensive and still do the job – and would not force me into bankruptcy. Drake was the answer to my prayers!”
Warner said he is truly a sole proprietor and manages to get everything done without additional staff. His business is made up mostly of 1040 clients, along with a few partnerships, sub s corporations and a few 990 clients. He uses the Drake Client Write Up for W-2s and 1099s.
“I have also persuaded a couple of my peers to make the switch to Drake Software,” Warner said. “When I hear of some of the problems my fellow preparers talk about at my tax meetings and training sessions, I always tell them about my top-notch Drake Tax Software and the superb support I get.”
In addition to running his own business, Warner also finds time to work as Lowell, Vermont’s town auditor for the general budget and public school budget and serves as a board member and secretary of the Vermont Tax Practitioners’ Association.
It isn’t all work and no play for Arlon Warner, however. He looks forward to weekend hiking trips and doing some nature sight-seeing in his beautiful hometown. He also takes photographs of all the Vermont scenery along the way. Another pastime for Warner and his family throughout the years has been music. He always worked on the business side, but now, at age 62, Warner is learning to play guitar so he can enjoy his family’s old time country music even more.
Warner’s family ties have always been strong, so it is not surprising that he helps take care of his elderly parents, who are now 94 and 92. “My father has dementia, so I’m glad I am only two miles away and can always be there to help,” he said. “My mother has some health issues too, which is expected at her age.”
As a side business to his tax preparation, Warner runs a 25 Kwh mini-hydro system on his 40-acre property. He started the system back in the 80s with his father and one of his brothers. It generates all of the electricity for his own home and he sells any excess electricity generated back to the local power company.
It is a busy life for someone who considers himself “semi-retired,” Warner admitted. Still, he wouldn’t have it any other way because keeping busy and helping others are what makes his life rewarding. In fact, if he could offer other entrepreneurs one piece of advice it would be: “Take things one step at a time. At times, we get overwhelmed by all the tasks we are required to do, but breaking it down into smaller steps, the tasks will be make much more manageable.”
Arlon Warner can be reached at his home office in Vermont:
77 Kempton Hill Road
Lowell, Vermont 05847