Walton County Property Appraiser Patrick Pilcher found himself doing plenty of double takes as he was calculating property values for this year. The reason for Pilcher?s surprise is that property values in Walton County are up 57.5 percent ? to $12.8 billion ? this year. Last year, Pilcher was ?astonished? when values rose 26 percent. This year, astonished doesn?t begin to describe his thoughts about the real estate market. ?It?s hard to believe,? Pilcher said. ?We?ve had to do a lot of verification. Some of those numbers don?t appear to make good common sense. But the market is what it is.? Property values increased more moderately elsewhere along the Emerald Coast. In Okaloosa County, they rose 26.5 percent to $13.6 billion, and in Santa Rosa County, they rose 11 percent to $6.6 billion. Last year, values rose about 9 percent in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa. The jumps mean home and business owners will pay more even as tax rates remain steady. It also means local governments will have more money to fund projects from stormwater improvements to hiring more police officers. ?This is certainly a welcome adjustment,? said Okaloosa County Commission chairman Bill Roberts. ?It helps us catch up in so many ways.? In Walton County, the numbers grow more moderate the farther north you go, as values are up 21 percent in Freeport and 8 percent in DeFuniak Springs. In Okaloosa County, the increases were spread fairly evenly from north to south. Destin posted the biggest gain at nearly 39 percent, but Laurel Hill, the smallest and most northern city, came in second at 28 percent. Laurel Hill, which has a population of less than 600, does not charge property taxes but has recently begun the process to implement them. While Laurel Hill Mayor James Dunn is excited about the rising property values and growth coming to the town, which has a fair number of elderly residents, he has concerns about its impact on people who don?t have much money. ?How will it affect the people on fixed income?? Dunn said. ?How will it affect the people who count their pennies to buy drugs every month? ?Some people will suffer from this. People might have to sell some property to keep up with the increased costs.? Dunn said property in Laurel Hill had been cheap for a long time, but now it?s beginning to change. Land that used to sell for $1,700 per acre is going for $10,000 per acre, he said. While new construction was up in 2004, it didn?t account for much of the increases in Okaloosa and Walton. The biggest factor was the resale prices of homes. New construction was responsible for 11 percent of Walton?s $4.7 billion increase in property values and 16 percent of Okaloosa?s $2.8 billion jump. However, new construction accounted for 47 percent of Santa Rosa?s $651 million increase. Property appraisers calculate values based on an analysis of what nearby property has sold for the previous year. ?We don?t have crystal balls,? said Okaloosa Property Appraiser Pete Smith. ?Buyers and sellers determine what the value of property is.? State law caps the increase at 3 percent for residential property that is eligible for a homestead exemption. However, most of the property sold near the gulf tends to be for vacation home or investment purposes and is not eligible for the exemption. Smith said most of the people who complain about skyrocketing appraisals live outside of Florida and don?t have a full grasp of the area?s real estate conditions. ?They love the values, but they don?t like them when it comes time to pay taxes,? Smith said. John Paulsen, owner of Crye Leike Realty, said lately the market has cooled. He said property is taking longer to sell and there are about four times the number of homes on the market now compared to a year ago. ?It?s calmed down somewhat,? Paulsen said. ?This being a resort town, it?s going to do well.? However, Paulsen is predicting steady growth for coastal areas. He said prices in South Walton haven?t peaked, as a condominium that goes for $1 million there would sell for $2 million in Naples. Pilcher said some people are beginning to cash out of the boom in South Walton and head north. ?A lot of people seem to be selling out of Freeport, and some in South Walton are, too, and moving north,? Pilcher said. Walton County Commissioner Cindy Meadows said she expected to see parts of north Walton grow. ?People are discovering it,? Meadows said. ?It?s a good value. It will grow exponentially.? The trend of growth filtering upward toward the Alabama border is something that Okaloosa is experiencing, and Dunn has mixed emotions about it. ?It?s a little frightening to think about how it will impact some folks,? Dunn said. ?On the flipside, Laurel Hill is experiencing services and jobs that it hasn?t had. It?s exciting for young people.?