Select Board meets Dec. 5/ Credit: The Needham Channel

The Select Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion that will have Needham celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day and not Columbus Day on future second Mondays in October.

Select Board chair Marianne Cooley, said the board received emails and letters from residents that were “overwhelmingly in favor of a change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.”

“Columbus was, at best, a difficult figure to defend, and clearly that was reflected in the comments we received from others,” she said.

The Select Board held a public hearing on the status of the holiday at its Nov. 28 meeting and received a mixture of opinions from the eight people who spoke. There was no such variety in the direct communications from residents, nor was there any ambiguity this week among the board members.

“I appreciate it’s hard to see our heroes in a harsh light, and I’m conscious about judging a person who was born 572 years ago by our own more enlightened standards,” said board vice chair Kevin Keane.

“However, I have no problem judging Christopher Columbus by the standards of his society in his time. His conduct in the New World was highly criticized by his contemporaries. He was stripped of his titles, his coat of arms.”

Keane noted that Columbus lost the support of even King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. “They instigated the Spanish Inquisition. Yet, in their eyes, Columbus went too far,” said Keane.

“When we have a holiday or a monument, it is a statement of our values,” added member Cathy Dowd. “In choosing to honor Columbus, this is problematic. I think we want to move away from that.

“I would be happy to support something in honor of Italian heritage, since that was the motivation for Columbus Day, without making reference to Columbus, the man we do not want to honor and does not reflect our values.”

Member Heidi Frail stated her opposition to any compromise solution that would include a shared holiday, saying, “It’s inappropriate to have these two holidays on the same day.

“My inclination currently is to change this to Indigenous Peoples Day. Period. And then to revisit whether it’s appropriate to reinstitute a day honoring any other group … at another time.”

And member Marcus Nelson, an early proponent of the change, made reference to the Needham students who in 2021 successfully petitioned the School Committee to change its October holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. 

“It’s pretty much overdue when you think about the stolen land that we’re on,” said Nelson, adding that it was not appropriate “to celebrate a man who deserves no celebration.”

Assessors tax rate approved

Earlier in the meeting, the board held a joint public hearing with the Board of Assessors to discuss how the 2024 tax levy would be allocated among the town’s various classes of property – residential, commercial and industrial.

John Bulian, chair of the Board of Assessors, presented a broad overview of the assessing process and the volumes of data that go into the calculation of the tax rate and the individual tax bills.

There was no public comment after the presentation and the Select Board ultimately voted unanimously to accept the recommended classifications, which represent no change from the previous year.

Major takeaways from the presentation were:

  • The average single-family homeowner will see a $466 increase, or 3.12%, in their property tax bill for fiscal year 2024. There will be many deviations from that average, however, based on individual circumstances.
  • The $466 increase is the smallest average annual increase in the town since 2017. By comparison, the average increase last year was $941, or 6.93%.
  • Needham experienced total new property value growth of $284 million over fiscal year 2023. Of that growth, $182 million was residential and $57.9 million was commercial. The balance came from personal property taxes ($40 million) and industrial properties ($3.8 million).
  • The total property tax levy for fiscal year 2024 is expected to be $184.5 million, an increase of $5 million over fiscal year 2023, fueled by the new growth.
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