A local businessman's last-minute plea to the York City Council may have bought him one more chance to retain his company's trash-collection contract in the city.

Scott Wagner, president of Penn Waste, stepped to the podium Wednesday night to criticize the city's adherence to bidding rules and to pitch his company as the best option for York City.

Penn Waste currently collects trash in the city, but the company was out-bid earlier this year by a competitor.

Wagner, however, said the process has been unfair.

"I believe we may be the lowest bidder," Wagner told the council.

At stake is a four-year contract - with three optional one-year renewals - worth about $1.47 million annually.

That's how much York Waste bid for annual trash collection. York Waste emerged as the low bidder in a field that included Penn Waste and one other company. Penn Waste's bid amounted to about $92,000 more than York Waste per year.

On Wednesday, the council's agenda included a resolution to approve a contract with York Waste.

Wagner came to the meeting armed with charts and stacks of papers. He spoke for a few minutes before city Solicitor Mark Elion cut him off and recommended that Council President Carol Hill-Evans stop the presentation.

"He's trying to convince you to disregard what's already gone through the bidding process," Elion said.

That exchange centered on a rule that Wagner invoked first when he argued that the city had been in improper contact with York Waste. He said state law requires that municipalities and companies vying for municipal bids must limit all communication to written correspondence copied to all of the bidders.

After the meeting, Wagner said a recent newspaper article led him to believe the city violated that rule.

Elion countered, arguing that municipalities have the right to contact low-bidding companies in an effort to verify the company is a "responsible" service provider. The city could be vulnerable to lawsuits "if we did not perform an investigation," he said.

Wagner said the city could not have performed a "thorough investigation because we were not contacted."

Hill-Evans did stop Wagner's pitch. But, when it came time to vote, Wagner got his way - kind of.

Three of the council's five members voted not to approve the contract with York Waste. Voting no were councilmen Michael Helfrich, Henry Nixon and David Satterlee. It's unclear what the vote means for the process going forward.

Public Works Director Jim Gross did not attend Wednesday's meeting and could not be reached for comment.

Before he was cut off, Wagner also argued that the city is doing itself a disservice by including what is known as a fuel escalator - a baseline price for fuel established at the beginning of a contract - in its bid specifications. Under a fuel escalator, the city reimburses the company when fuel costs are up. When costs are down, the company reimburses the city.

Since 2006, the city has paid Penn Waste $87,000 in additional fuel costs because of that stipulation, Wagner said.

Of the 67 municipalities Penn Waste contracts with, just two - York City and New Freedom Borough - have fuel escalators in their contracts, he said.

It's an unnecessary risk that, Wagner said, will cost York City money. Contracting with Penn Waste, which only uses trucks fueled by diesel, would "actually give money back to the city," he said.

Diesel prices are already high, Wagner said.

Contracting now with York Waste, which uses some trucks powered by natural gas, will likely cost the city money because the cost of natural gas is expected to increase significantly, Wagner said.

Wagner's argument and the council's vote frustrated two York Waste representatives present at Wednesday's meeting.

"What happened tonight undermines the competitive bidding process," Mark Pergolese, York Waste's general manager, said afterward.

Some York Waste trucks are fueled by natural gas, but not all, said Don Isabella, the company's area municipal services manager. In fact, he said, the fleet of trucks most likely to be used in York City are powered by diesel.

"He influenced them with unfounded statements," Isabella said.

Municipal officials need to be careful about alienating companies that play by the rules, Isabella said.

Asked if that means York Waste might withdraw its bid altogether, Pergolese said he didn't know.

"We'll evaluate our options," he said.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.