AUGUSTA — With more than 16 years in Augusta Public Works between them, one throwing rubbish on the back of a city garbage truck, the other laboring on a paving crew, Manny Proctor and Justin Miller had gone as far as they could within the department.

Meanwhile the city was facing a shortage of licensed commercial truck drivers to drive plow trucks due to retirements, staff departures and illness, leaving it under-staffed and drawing complaints about the quality and timeliness of plowing in last year’s snow-heavy winter.

This winter, while the city is still seeking a few more plow drivers, it at least has two new drivers who’ll be behind the wheel of large plow trucks removing snow, Proctor, 30, of Farmingdale, and Miller, 25, of Whitefield.

The two obtained their commercial drivers licenses, with help from the city, this year, using grant funds from state career training programs to enroll in the Keep Right Commercial Driving School in Albion through Lawrence Adult Education.

Now Proctor, an 11-year employee of the department, has moved from the back of a rubbish truck to the driver’s seat and Miller, a five-and-a-half year employee, now spends part of his time on the paving crew behind the wheel of a dump truck, and both will switch to driving a plow truck during storms. And both, with commercial drivers licenses in their wallets, were promoted and are earning higher wages, and will have additional opportunities for step pay increases and promotions, such as potentially becoming equipment operators.

“Me and him were both in standstills in our positions, there was nothing else for me to do, we’d gone as far as we could,” Miller said. “We both want to move up and (their supervisors) gave us that opportunity and it shows that public works does care about our future there. It meant a lot and hopefully we’ll be there for quite a while.”

City officials said they’re proud of the two new drivers both for bettering themselves and gaining the skills to help the city keep the streets safe in the winter in a time when there is a shortage of licensed commercial drivers across the state.

“It’s a big step for them, we’re very proud of them and we’re looking forward to them stepping up for the betterment of both the city and themselves,” said Lesley Jones, public works director.

The $2,400 cost for each of the men to take the class was covered by state grants obtained through Augusta Career Center for employment training. They underwent 30 hours of classroom time, while being paid by the city, as well as time behind the wheel.

Proctor, who has a 7-year-old son, Ethan, said he likes driving a truck — a rubbish truck normally and a plow truck he’ll drive when it snows — much better than working on the back of a rubbish truck. He joked that on a recent cold day he brought his heavy coat to work, then didn’t need it because he was inside the cab of the rubbish truck, not on the back in the cold air, so he could just turn up the heater if he got cold. So he stuffed his coat under the seat.

Jerry Dostie, street superintendent for the city, said both seem like they will be good drivers. Miller had already been plowing snow for the city — just in pickup trucks, not the larger dump trucks. He said the city benefits because the two veteran workers know the city, know their routes, and know what it is like to be a laborer on their crews.

“Manny has been on the back of the truck, so he knows the runs, knows the stops and he knows what happens to guys on the back when you hit a bump,” Dostie said. “Justin is very talented, he’s been on smaller trucks, so plowing is not totally new to him. We’re very pleased these two individuals got their (commercial drivers licenses).”

Jones said the promotions for the pair came with raises of about 75 cents an hour. And it puts them on a new scale of wages, so they can get step increases, and, with experience and more training, potentially additional promotions.

Helping the two obtain training was part of efforts by the city to be aggressive in adding staff to public works for the coming winter.

Barbara Garbi, the city’s human resources director, helped find the driving school and adult ed programs and line up state grant funding for the two to attend driving school at no cost to the workers.

Dostie and Jones said they hope to promote additional public works staff in a similar way, though no current laborers meet the city’s qualifications for the program, which include having an established track record as employees. Most of the city’s public works crew members already have their commercial drivers licenses.

“I know it took a lot of courage, because they were under the microscope, this was a pilot program, and they knew going into it we’d all be watching them, and rooting for them,” Garbi said. “I’m very proud of them and very excited that the program will be a conduit for new promotions in the future.”

Patricia Hughes, director of Lawrence Adult Education, said Miller and Proctor were great students and obtained their licenses in record time and said workers with such licenses are in high demand.

Miller said he’d tried to get his commercial drivers license four times before but couldn’t pass the written test by only being able to study written materials about it. He said having someone tell and show him things in the driving school worked better for him.

Proctor already had his commercial drivers learning permit but didn’t have any experience behind the wheel of big vehicles, so he, too, hadn’t been able to get his license.

Both passed the written exam and got their Class B commercial licenses, which allow them to drive any of the trucks in the city’s fleet, within about a month of each other.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj