We sympathize with the Blue Mountain Translator District’s plight.

The district, which makes television signals available to people in parts of Baker and Union counties, in effect depends on the honor system to collect its annual $100 fee.

Imagine if, say, Netflix or DirectTV couldn’t simply cancel your account or deactivate your satellite dish when you stop paying your bill.

The Translator District has no such option. If it shuts down its signals everybody loses access — including people who pay the fee.

The district has also suffered from the growing popularity of online streaming services. When the district was formed in the 1970s, rural residents who couldn’t get cable TV, which was just beginning to become available in many cities, had no other viable options to get network stations.

That said, it’s not acceptable for the Translator District to bill people who not only don’t use the district’s signals, but who have mailed back the district’s own form indicating they’re not customers.

Unfortunately some residents had the $100 fee added to their property tax bills, which were mailed recently. Oregon law allows the district’s fee to be included on property tax bills.

The district’s administrator blamed the erroneous billing on software issues and human error. But that’s no solace to property owners who already struggle to pay their taxes and for whom a $100 mistake is a major problem.

The administrator said the district will refund property owners who shouldn’t have been billed. We urge the district to do so as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it appears that some people might end up paying the $100 fee so they can receive a reduction in their bill by paying it in full, which means they’ll be out $100 until the refund arrives.

This situation should not be complicated.

People who use a rooftop antenna to pull in the district’s signals should pay the $100 fee (an antenna is not, however, a sure sign that someone is using the district’s signals — some people put up an antenna solely to access Oregon Public Broadcasting, which is a free service).

People who don’t use the district’s signals but who receive a bill in the mail (typically these are people who live outside the Baker City limits) should promptly fill out and return the waiver form. And the district should send bills to customers only.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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