The Elba Water and Electric Board received word Monday, Sept. 23, that it had been approved for a $4.4 million loan and $1 million grant from USDA, if the board chose to accept it. The catch…the board had less than 24 hours to make a decision. The Water and Electric Board applied for the USDA grant months ago, and officials said they had been waiting to hear back ever since. On Monday, a phone call to city and water and electric board officials revealed the details of what Elba had been approved for by USDA; however, an answer was needed immediately they were told. Fortunately, the Elba Water and Electric Board has its regular meeting set for Monday night, and they were able to address the issue in that meeting. It was not an easy decision to make, however, because ultimately, it means an increase in water rates for Elba’s 1,800 customers. Yet, it also means infrastructure projects that Elba’s water system desperately needs could be handled at one time instead of being spread out over the next several years. Also, the USDA loan would be offered at a low interest rate over a 38-year period. Board chairman Tim Johnson explained Monday night to board members that they basically had two options. One: the board could accept the USDA loan and grant and that would provide enough funds to allow the water department to complete several needed projects; or Two: the board could reject the USDA proposal and borrow $1 million to fund the necessary-now project of replacing water meters and include replacement of electric meters in that loan. This would be a shorter 10-year loan at a 3.75 percent interest rate. Either way, an increase in water fees would be imminent for customers as the city has not had a water rate increase in many years, officials discussed. “Rates are going to have to increase to cover the costs. That is a given,” Johnson said to board members as they visibly battled the decision of which would be the best way to go for the city. “While I don’t relish the thought of the debt, we are going to have to pay for this stuff at one point in the near future any way.” The board contacted project engineer DeAnn Grantham via telephone during the meeting to allow board members to ask questions to Grantham about the projects Elba is facing and allow her to give them feedback on their questions. “Money spent on infrastructure is money well spent,” board member Jane Brunson said. “But, this is a lot of infrastructure.” After a nearly two-hour meeting, with lengthy discussions as to what they were facing, and back-and-forth ideas on which option was the best to take, chairman Johnson made a recommendation to go with the USDA loan and grant. Board member Tom Maddox made a motion to go with the chairman’s recommendation, and he received a second from board member Brunson. The motion passed by unanimous vote of the board member’s in attendance Monday night. Following the vote, Johnson said, “This is almost a necessity not a luxury that we reluctantly have to do this.” The board members agreed saying the terms of the USDA loan and grant were not exactly what they had hoped for at this time, but in the end, weighing all the options, they believed it still would be the best option for Elba. Johnson did say that it was his understanding that once Elba accepted the USDA proposal and all paperwork is in place, the monies would immediately start filtering in to the water department to allow projects to get underway.