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NEWS from the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Contact: Press Office 518-474-4015

DiNapoli: Localities Spending More to Address Climate Change Hazards

Survey of Climate Smart Communities Found Flooding and Increased Storm Activity Outweighed Other Threats

April 20, 2023

A sample of local governments across New York reported $1.34 billion in actual and anticipated spending on capital projects over a 10-year period, with about 55% of the total in response to climate-related hazards such as increased flooding and storm damage, according to a report released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“Climate change poses significant threats to communities in New York. Concerns are growing about severe heat waves and droughts, more frequent and destructive storms, and flooding and rising sea levels that threaten both coastal and inland communities,” DiNapoli said. “Local governments are shouldering much of the financial burden of climate change as they maintain important infrastructure such as roadways, drinking water systems and sewers. Local officials will increasingly need to assess the need for additional climate actions, plan for these higher costs, and communicate these challenges to stakeholders at the state and local levels.”

In 2022, DiNapoli’s office conducted a voluntary survey of the 353 localities outside New York City that had registered to take part in Climate Smart Communities, a state program addressing climate change. The survey asked respondents to assess their actual spending over the prior five years and anticipated spending over the next five on modifications to buildings, roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure associated with climate change. The office also received information from New York City to get a broad sense of its spending on similar projects.

Representing just a fraction of New York’s municipalities, 95 communities outside New York City responded. They estimated that $737 million would be spent over the 10-year period in response to climate change, with flooding and increased storm activity far outweighing other issues. Respondents reported that they funded or anticipate shouldering a majority of these costs locally (about 52%), with grants or other aid from state and federal sources accounting for the remainder.

Of the respondents, 77 reported that they had undertaken or planned projects to adapt their infrastructure and natural systems to climate change.

Common Actions Among Local Communities

The survey asked for information on projects in ten categories. The most commonly reported actions were:

  • Planting trees or other vegetation (46 respondents reported projects in this category);
  • Enlarging culverts (44);
  • Rebuilding or retrofitting critical infrastructure other than buildings (42); and
  • Retrofitting municipal buildings (41).

Some of the larger cities, towns and villages surveyed reported undertaking comprehensive tree inventory and management plans, including the cities of Albany and Syracuse and towns of Bethlehem and East Rockaway. A few municipalities have also established tree committees.

A third of the survey’s respondents included retrofitting, or otherwise making changes to, municipal buildings and critical infrastructure to adapt to climate change. It also included the more drastic and less commonly reported relocation or demolition of any of those structures.

The most common type of retrofitting project reported was installing emergency power generators at a central business location such as a town or village hall to combat power outages attributed to increasingly severe storms.

The most expensive projects involved retrofitting or rebuilding infrastructure other than municipal buildings, such as wastewater or drinking water facilities. Officials said nearly the entire Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant Rehabilitation Project was the direct result of storms and flooding exacerbated by climate change.

The estimated cost of all such projects totaled $632 million, $401 million (64%) of which was attributed to climate change adaptation. The local cost of these totaled $368 million, with $235 million attributed to climate change.

DiNapoli’s office conducted a separate review of New York City's budget to gauge the costs of projects related to climate change.

New York City Spending Billions on Resiliency Projects

The analysis found that the city’s capital commitment plan for city fiscal year (FY) 2023 alone included $829 million for projects that could be considered full adaptation and resilience and another $1.3 billion that were partially for these purposes The plan showed commitments for adaptation and resilience (including those either fully or partially for this purpose) averaging more than $1.8 billion, or 9.7%, of average annual commitments for all capital projects for FY 2023 through FY 2026. The biggest cost drivers were sewer projects ($2.3 billion over the four years), water pollution control ($1.8 billion) and the broad category of resiliency, technology and equipment ($1.6 billion).

The city could spend billions more on projects categorized as “potential for adaptation and resilience.”

New York’s Local Governments Adapting to Climate Change: Challenges, Solutions and Costs

Track state and local government spending at Open Book New York. Under State Comptroller DiNapoli’s open data initiative, search millions of state and local government financial records, track state contracts, and find commonly requested data.