Sometime within a year of celebrating its 100th anniversary, Okaloosa County welcomed its 200,000th resident.
The county surpassed the 200,000 population mark between July 1 of 2015 and the same date in 2016, figures released by the U.S. Census show. It celebrated its centennial in September of 2015.
Okaloosa County Administrator John Hofstad said surpassing the 200K mark didn’t catch anyone by surprise.
“I don’t think it’s anything we didn’t expect,” he said.
By adding 2,489 new residents, or about six a day, Okaloosa achieved a population of 201,170, the census report said. More people live in the county than in either of the two that were sectioned off to form it, but both Walton and Santa Rosa counties are growing at a faster rate than Okaloosa, according to Peter Borsella, a Census Bureau demographer.
Walton County experienced 3.8 percent growth for the 2015-16 period, and added 2,430 to its population for a total population of 65,889, Borsella said.
“There are more people moving into Walton County now than are being born,” he said.
Santa Rosa County experienced 2.2 percent growth and added 1,642 residents to reach a population total of 170,497.
Over the same period the state population grew by 1.8 percent, which surpassed Okaloosa County’s growth rate of 1.3 percent.
“This last year growth did slow down slightly in Okaloosa County,” Borsella said. “It’s difficult to tell whether it will pick back up.”
Steady growth has increased Okaloosa's ad valorem tax revenues in each of the last few years, Hofstad said, and the expanding tax base has allowed county commissioners to maintain a millage rate that is among the lowest in the state.
Growth has also brought headaches. Road improvements have not kept pace with the population explosion in Crestview and North Okaloosa County and traffic headaches abound.
“It has indicated a need to plan for infrastructure,” Hofstad said, citing other areas of concern in the Destin area.
County officials have done a good job of keeping up with a greater need for government services, Hofstad said, by funding construction of a new administrative building and two new courthouses. An expansion of State Road 123 will ease the flow of traffic through the county’s midsection, plans to expand PJ Adams road around Crestview are getting serious attention and preparations have been made to accommodate development along the Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90 corridor, he said.
The signs of continued population growth in Walton and Santa Rosa counties are abundant.
Walton County, whose growth for the last couple of years has been largely due to an influx of people over the age of 65, is prepared for a development boom along U.S. Highway 331, which is being expanded to four lanes. That commercial development is likely to bring more new residents to the county.
"I believe that 331 and the environmental corridor we're working on (alongside the roadway) will lead to jobs and workforce development in the central and northern parts of the county," Williams said.
Santa Rosa County planner Jason McLarty recently told the Daily News growth in that county is “really is picking up” and that commercial and residential development are occurring county wide.