Santa Rosa County's population soars above 200,000 for first time; Pensacola drops

When Sam Parker was elected county commissioner for the first time in 2016, the number of people residing in Santa Rosa County stood at just over 170,000.

Today, as Parker seeks his third term in office, the US Census Bureau is reporting that for the first time Santa Rosa County's population has eclipsed the 200,000 mark, and as of July 1, 2023 stood at 203,162.

Between July 1 of 2022 and July 1 of 2023, census figures indicate Santa Rosa County's population grew by 4,963, which is slightly above the average annual growth rate of 4,775 since 2016. Parker, in whose Pace-area commission district many of the newcomers have settled, said a governor who has advocated for less restrictive government, no state income tax and the county's welcoming climate have all helped contribute to population growth.

East Milton growth: Development booming along Hwy 87 corridor.

But he said while everyone seems to support Gov. Ron DeSantis's pro-growth policies, local government leaders are being "crucified" when they're unable to keep up with it.

"You go out and ask the average person and I'll bet most will say they are frustrated with the growth and their county commission and local government," he said.

Parker said he's fought hard, and often while in the minority, to help slow the rampant pace of development, but still finds himself being blamed for the actions of others.

"For sure Pace has grown more than any other commission district," he said, recalling specifically an 800-home development off Berryhill Road he opposed. "And I get blamed for the traffic that comes with that. I have personally voted against more rezoning than any other commissioner."

Santa Rosa County's leaders have certainly welcomed the growth the county has seen over recent years, but say they also realize that it is incumbent on them to keep it in check until such time as infrastructure is in place to meet the unending demand.

Commissioner Kerry Smith, whose district includes fast growing East Milton, is advocating for a master plan of his district to help in planning for the future.

He also said that passage of a half-cent county sales tax is crucial if the county is going to have the money it needs to help pay for transportation infrastructure improvements.

Escambia County growth slows, Pensacola loses population

Numbers published by the Census Bureau indicate that while both Escambia and Santa Rosa's populations continue to grow, Santa Rosa is by far outpacing its neighbor to the west. Between July 1 of 2022 and July 1 of 2023, Escambia County grew by 3,068 new residents, while Santa Rosa welcomed 4,963.

Between April 1 of 2020 and July 1 of last year, Escambia's total population grew by 5,028, while Santa Rosa added 15,163.

More: Escambia, Santa Rosa future at risk without better growth planning | Guestview

The city of Pensacola, the only Northwest Florida municipality with a population of over 20,000, has seen its population drop slightly over the course of the last few years.

The census numbers show that between 2022 and 2023 the number of people residing in the city fell by 156 from 53,880 to 53,724. Between April of 2020 and July 1 of 2023, the population has dipped from 54,316 to 53,724 or by 592. This represents a 1.1% drop in population.

The numbers showed that Haines City had the largest growth spurt of any Florida city with a population over 20,000 in Florida. It added 9,730 new residents between 2020 and 2023, constituting a 35.3% population change and putting it in the top 10 fastest growing cities in the country.

Key West saw the biggest drop in population of any city in Florida, losing 1,337 residents, or 5.1% of those who lived there, between 2020 and 2023.

The numbers showed that the state of Florida added 365,205 new residents between 2022 and 2023 and had gained 1,672,510 since April 1 of 2020.

The Census Bureau report said that cities in the South were the fastest growing, by an average 1.0%.

“The population growth across the South in 2023 was driven by significant numeric and percentage gains among its cities,” Crystal Delbé, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Population Division, was quoted as saying. “Thirteen of the 15 fastest-growing cities were in the South, with eight in Texas alone.”

Topping the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more was Celina, Texas, (near Dallas), whose population grew by 26.6%, more than 53 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5%.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Santa Rosa County Fl population reaches 200,000 US Census Bureau says