Baker County is owed almost $3.5 million, but this impressive sum doesn’t represent the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Far from it, in fact.

A black hole probably is the more apt metaphor.

But it’s not a perfect one, either, because although matter (and, presumably, money) can’t escape a black hole, there’s reason to believe the county can collect at least some of the money it’s due.

And with $3.5 million outstanding, even a middling percentage could make for a significant boost to the county’s coffers.

The money in question is unpaid fines owed to the Baker Justice Court. Lest anyone be overwhelmed by the amount, it has accrued over about the past 20 years.

Undoubtedly some of this money will never be collected. Some of the debtors might have died. Others probably have declared bankruptcy. And it hardly makes sense, even in cases where this is a legal option, for the county to put somebody in jail for contempt of court for failing to pay fines. That would only add to the county’s costs with no guarantee of raising revenue.

But we agree with Bill Harvey, chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, that county officials need to talk about ways to potentially grab some of the dollars the county has coming.

Although the $3.5-million figure no doubt surprised many people who read Herald reporter Joshua Dillen’s story in the April 6 issue, the accompanying chart also noted that the county has collected about 84 percent of the fines it has levied since 2000. The total exceeds $11 million.

The point here is that even though the county has been relatively diligent in making sure people pay court fines, over two decades a sizable sum of unpaid debt has accumulated.

We’re glad that county officials intend to be more aggressive in trying to recoup some of that money.

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

20058879