The City Council meeting had seven voting members Wednesday for the first time in six months.
Bruce Freeman, retired president of Castle & Cooke's mainland division who won the special election about three weeks ago, officially became the Ward 5 representative on the City Council in a brief ceremony before the council began its closed meeting.
The southwest seat became vacant after Councilman Jeff Tkac's death earlier this year. Freeman will serve the remainder of Tkac's unfinished term, ending in 2020.
Before heading into his first closed session with the City Council, Freeman told reporters he would be focused on jobs and crime — though his primary goal is economic growth.
The councilman said during his campaign that he would go into the "fine-grain" of city government and streamline processes for businesses where possible.
Freeman joined the City Council the same evening it voted on the city's roughly $494 million budget for fiscal year 2017-18. The council also had its first look at repealing the rule limiting outside watering to three days a week.
The repeal will go before the council once more in July, and if the City Council approves it, 30 days later Bakersfield water customers will be able to water outside everyday of the week — but restrictions on watering sidewalks and washing cars without a shut-off nozzle would remain.
Freeman did not vote on the consent agenda items, which included the repeal of the three-days-a-week outside watering ordinance, because he said he has not had enough time to get up to speed on those items.
However, Freeman did vote on the city budget.
He said he had watched the public hearing on the budget — the minimum requirement in order to vote on it — and had read it a couple of times in addition to meeting with the city manager.
As it did with the consent agenda, the City Council passed the budget with no discussion. In fact, the agenda item that took the longest amount of time was honoring some 45-plus Kern High School District students for their academic excellence. They and their families crowded the Council Chambers during the celebration.
Meanwhile, the city budget becomes effective July 1. It will add three more police officers to patrol downtown and southeast Bakersfield — they will be paid for with urban development funds that are at risk of being cut by President Donald Trump's budget proposal — and one solid waste employee, whose salary and truck would be paid for with trash fees that are increasing from $195.72 to $200 per year.
The budget also includes capital improvement projects, like the remodel of a 1985 bathroom in the city's oldest fire station, expansion of a police substation parking lot by 63 spaces and the upgrading of the downtown firing range.
Most growth in city departments' budgets is due to an increase in California Public Employees' Retirement System costs. The city is expecting a $2.4 million increase this fiscal year and another $6.5 million in CalPERS contributions next fiscal year.