GARDEN CITY-In most places, when public service is bad, citizen complaints pile up and the terms of public employment shield those responsible from suffering any real penalty. But in Garden City, officials impose a stiff fine-$750 a day-when Abcor Enterprises, the city's private garbage pickup service, fails to fulfill the terms of its contract.

Abcor was hired in October 2000 to haul trash for 11,500 homes and businesses in Garden City. If the company fails to do its job, it is fined. In October alone, Abcor paid out nearly $7,000 in fines for offenses such as missing entire city blocks and showing up to collect trash from houses as late as 11:30 p.m.

In late November, even though the company was doing better, a Detroit News article on Garden City's poor garbage service didn't do Abcor's reputation any good at all. "If they don't do what the contract stipulates, we'll continue to fine them," City Manager David Kocsis told The News, neatly encapsulating the rationale for privatization.

Reports now are that Abcor has shaped up and won't be fired, even though this remedy is always lurking in the background as the ultimate motivation for a private company to improve.