Thanks! Holiday bonus traditions vary: Gulf Stream, Ocean Ridge, Manalapan, Briny Breezes, Lantana, Delray Beach

By Antigone Barton

The grinch who stole the economy left the holidays untouched in the season just passed, as towns took second looks at pay raises, but followed their standing traditions of glad tidings to staff members. In some towns that meant hefty stocking stuffers, but in some it meant that December was just another month. Falling into the first category was Gulf Stream, where the 17 staff members got — a lot. How much is as elusive as a Santa Claus spotting, as the gift comes directly from residents to an account set up by the Civic Association. It’s a town tradition that goes back about 60 years.

“Way back, people gave Christmas gifts directly to police officers,” said Civic Association President Bob Ganger. “And the Civic Association said, that probably isn’t right.”

In the years since, the association has instead collected and combined the gifts, a process that keeps the source of each, and the resulting total, known only to a scarce few. After a reminder goes to all residents around Thanksgiving, checks start arriving at Town Hall. At least 70 percent of residents give, Ganger said, with snowbirds who returned too late to chip in for this season’s greetings sending a check for the next year’s pot. “Most people who live in Gulf Stream view our employees as friends, first,” Ganger said.

If it is hard to put a price on friendship, it is harder in Gulf Stream, where the group effort is neither official act nor public record. When asked how it stacks up next to nearby Ocean Ridge’s $500 per employee seasonal staff bonuses, Ganger allowed it is “considerably more.”

Ocean Ridge commissioners agreed to their amount in December’s meeting; when given a choice of $200, $300, $500 or nothing, Mayor Ken Kaleel quickly recommended the highest number. While Commissioner Terry Brown dissented, on the grounds of sticking to the established budget, he stood alone. Commissioner Lynn Allison cited an exceptionally tough year in which clerk, manager, police and other staff operated from cramped trailer quarters, and pulled off an en masse move in October. Most of the town’s employees have worked for the town for 10 years or more; still, some commissioners raised the specter of Gulf Stream’s unknown amount as they said seasonal generosity can play a role in getting and keeping good workers. In towns on either side of Ocean Ridge, though, it is the thought that counts.

Manalapan employees haven’t seen a holiday bonus since 2005, after which legislative restrictions on taxes tightened the town budget to more provable necessities.

Briny Breezes did not have a paid town employee to give a bonus to, until the recent hire of a town clerk, and so had no tradition to follow. Lantana will, as usual, Town Manager Mike Bornstein said, give each of its 100 employees a $20 gift certificate to Publix.

And in Delray Beach, commissioners gave the gift of time, agreeing recently to add the day after Christmas off to the $100 bonus received by each of the city’s approximately 850 employees.

“What a surprise!” administrative assistant Rosanne Dechicchio said. “We were just thrilled.” And that is what every town wants, says Gulf Stream’s Ganger, who agrees with those keeping an eye on their neighbors’ holiday spirit, adding:

“There’s nothing better than contented and motivated people serving the town.”

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